Facebook Group Posts Shine Light on Racism in French Police

(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc. said it is investigating a private group allegedly set up by French law enforcement officers after the discovery of multiple racist, sexist and homophobic comments.

News portal StreetPress.com said last week it uncovered the hate-filled content on the “TN Rabiot Police Officiel” group, prompting the Paris prosecutor to open an investigation into possible incitement to racial hatred.

The group, which has more than 7,000 members, was still active on Monday. The company said it will cooperate with the French investigation.

“We are actively investigating this group and will remove any content that breaks our rules,” it said in an emailed reply to questions from Bloomberg. “Hate speech and content which incites violence has no place on Facebook, including in private Groups.”

The discovery has sharpened a public debate in France over police violence and the prevalence of hate speech in social media. Thousands of people marched across the country in recent days, with nearly 20,000 gathering in Paris, inspired by U.S. protests over the killing of George Floyd.

The Facebook group, created in 2015, includes active police members and some of their relatives and is described as a forum for discussing public security and the reality of working life for law enforcement officers.

While its administrators promise to erase any sexist, homophobic or racist content, StreetPress said it found posts including memes of black people that mock the deaths of youngsters in impoverished French suburbs, and comments describing the demonstration in Paris as “an oil spill.”

“I thank you for making these posts public,” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told a StreetPress reporter at a press conference on Monday. “The comments were scandalous and the people who made them will be probed and sanctioned” by the judiciary, he said.

Castaner said police arrest techniques will be changed, and pinning a suspect to the ground by the neck will be banned. He also pledged to reform the way the police investigate internal malpractice.

“The French police is not the U.S. police,” said Castaner. “I refuse to say the institution is racist, but yes there are racist members.”

Removing Posts

Facebook, Google’s YouTube and other platforms are supposed to follow a 2016 code of conduct agreed with the European Commission under which they must tackle online hate speech within 24 hours once they are made aware of it.

Public hate speech is banned in French law. When an online group reaches a certain size, comments are no longer considered private correspondence but public -- as with the Facebook law enforcement group.

The country’s constitutional court is now examining a bill that could force Facebook to take down unlawful posts related to terrorism or child pornography -- even those contained in private groups -- within as little as an hour.

Opponents say the bill threatens freedom of speech. The issue has led to tensions between European governments and the U.S., with its strong historical tradition of free speech.

Laetitia Avia, the lawmaker for Macron’s ruling party who spearheaded the bill, said it could become law as soon as July. However, she conceded that hate speech by members of the security forces only reflects a deeper problem that’s harder to solve.

“There is racism everywhere, and we have to be careful not to look at it only from the police angle,” she told Bloomberg by phone. “We must address racism as a behavior more broadly.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.