The Brief, powered by ECPC – When words become deeds

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [EPA-EFE/IAN LANGSDON]

France today pays national homage to Samuel Paty, the history and geography teacher who was brutally murdered last Friday outside the gates of the college where he taught at Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, for showing his pupils caricatures of Prophet Mohammad during a class on freedom of expression.

The ceremony will begin in the courtyard of the Sorbonne at 7.30 pm, in the presence of 400 guests, including around a hundred students from schools in the Ile-de-France region.

Sorbonne was chosen by the Elysée because it symbolizes the spirit of Enlightenment and Education.

The emotion in the country is immense, the political debate electric.

From the numerous declarations and measures announced in recent days, one constant appears, that of the annoying power of social networks.

Seven people, including two minors, have been brought before a judge to be indicted.

Among them is Brahim C., the father of the 13-year-old student who had launched what many in France describe as a veritable lynching on social networks, and the activist Abdelhakim Sefrioui, an Islamist filed on “fichier S”, an indicator used by law enforcement to flag an individual considered to be a serious threat to national security, who supported him.

For Gabriel Attal, the French executive’s spokesman, social networks bear “responsibility for what happened”, while Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin denounced what he said was as a real “fatwa” organised on these platforms. Prime Minister Jean Castex warned that “it is because he was named on social networks that Samuel Paty was murdered”.

Today, combatting hatred on social networks has officially become the government’s top priority. The prime minister wants to create a crime of “endangerment by publishing personal data” on the Internet and a new law on hate speech could come forward after the Constitutional Council struck down the Avia law earlier this year.

Paris’ move is reminiscent of what Berlin has rolled out – one of the strictest judicial arsenals in Europe, the NetzDG, which was sharpened further following the murder in June 2019 by an extreme right-wing activist of the prefect of Kassel, the conservative Walter Lübcke.

The prefect had taken a stand in favour of the integration of refugees in Germany. His murder, too, was preceded by hate comments online.

Europe is not to be outdone: on Tuesday evening (20 October), the European Parliament voted in favour of a “consistent and rigorous” implementation of the Digital Services Act, which, among other things, could aim to introduce new rules against online hate speech.

“The EU has already done more to regulate the internet than any other continent, but it is still the Wild West,” said Belgium’s conservative MEP Kris Peeters.

This is because sowing hatred on social media, using emotion and fear, generates traffic and therefore brings in a lot of money. Citizen initiatives such as Sleeping Giant in the United States – which also has a subsidiary in France – are mobilizing to dry up advertising revenue.

And this lever is proving to be devilishly effective, it shows the way forward.

Europe has to break this economic model based on hate speech, it has to implement efficient regulations that can dry up the financial flows generated by the dissemination of hatred on the Internet.

The savage assassination of Samuel Paty shows the extreme urgency of taking effective action. It shows that, in today’s world, words can quickly become deeds.


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The Roundup

EU farm ministers clinched an early-morning deal on the post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), touted as ‘a paradigm shift in European food policy’.

NATO defence ministers are expected to approve a plan to create a new space centre at the alliance’s Air Command in Ramstein, Germany, in response to growing concerns over protecting satellite and navigation assets from enemy interference.

Serbia’s new government will have a shorter term, as the next general election will be held in April 2022 at the latest, simultaneously with the presidential polls and municipal elections in Belgrade, Serbian president and leader of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), Aleksandar Vučić, said.

With its 2030 climate plan unveiled last month, the European Commission has put the spotlight on forests as Europe’s main “carbon sink,” saying their ability to store carbon dioxide must be preserved in order to reach the bloc’s climate goals. Read our EURACTIV reports.

Two billion people worldwide do not have access to proper waste collection services, leading to ever-growing plastic pollution in oceans and waterways, particularly in the global south.

The EU and African Union must use a new ‘strategic partnership’ to deepen their trade and investment relations, participants agreed during a EURACTIV event focusing on what is likely to emerge from discussions between the two blocs.

Look out for…

  • NATO defence ministers meeting starts on Thursday
  • Eastern Partnership ministerial meeting with the German Presidency
  • European Parliament plenary session

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Samuel Stolton]

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