Reporters Without Borders has filed a lawsuit against Facebook in France, accusing the platform of failing to provide a “safe” environment for users in violation of its own terms and conditions.
The media advocacy group, which is considering filing similar lawsuits in other countries, said France’s consumer law is especially well suited to the issue. Misleading consumers is illegal under French law and companies face fines of up to 10% of their annual sales if found in violation.
The suit filed with prosecutors in Paris on Monday argues that Facebook has engaged in “deceptive commercial practices” by allowing disinformation and threats to flourish despite promising users that it will “exercise professional diligence” to create “a safe, secure and error-free environment.”
The group, which is based in Paris and also known by its French initials RSF, said in a statement that the promises made in Facebook’s terms and conditions are “largely mendacious” and contradicted by “the large-scale dissemination of hate speech and false information on its networks.”
To support its claims, Reporters Without Borders cites statements from former Facebook employees, two lengthy reports detailing hate speech and threats made against French journalists, the work of fact-checking organizations and examples of disinformation disseminated on the platform.
Reporters Without Borders said it hopes that prosecutors open an investigation into Facebook. But it also said that it wants Facebook to live up to its commitments. “We expect Facebook to effectively respect the commitments it has made to its consumers, rather than pretending to implement them without this being the case,” the group said.
Facebook said in a statement on Tuesday that it has “zero tolerance for any harmful content on our platforms and we’re investing heavily to tackle hate speech and misinformation.”
“Our enforcement will never be perfect, but while nobody can eliminate misinformation and hate speech from the internet entirely, we continue using research, experts and technologies to tackle them in the most comprehensive and effective way possible,” it added.
While the lawsuit does not include significant revelations about Facebook, it does underscore the pressure on the company from regulators and advocacy groups around the world to address issues including hate speech and disinformation.
Facebook has tried to address disinformation in various ways, from labeling false claims to reducing its visibility in users’ feeds. But the issue has persisted. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is set to face questions from lawmakers on Thursday over the role of social media disinformation in the attack on the US Capitol earlier this year.
Facebook is also on a collision course with the media industry in several major economies over compensation for journalism. The company briefly banned news content in Australia earlier this year as lawmakers moved to implement a media code that forces Big Tech to pay publishers for news shared on their platforms.
Facebook has since struck deals with several major publishers in the country.