European Commission agrees with social media companies on a common approach against online hate
On 31 May the European Commission together with firms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube published a Code of Conduct to aid in the fight against the dissemination of hate speech through the Internet. According to the code, the firms will attempt to investigate whether content is objectionable within 24 hours of being warned about it.
Should the content prove objectionable, the firms will either remove it or deactivate access to it. "We have effective systems at our disposal thanks to which we are able, within 24 hours, to review an active warning and remove illegal content," said Lie Junius, Google's director for government and public relations.
EC Justice Commissioner Věra Jourová met with the companies on the issue before launching the code. She warned that social media are one instrument exploited by terrorist groups to radicalize young people and used by racists to incite hatred and violence.
Jourová said recent terrorist attacks in European cities were a reminder of that. "This agreement represents a significant step toward ensuring that the Internet remains a safe place for democratic, free expression where European laws and values are upheld," the Commissioner from the Czech Republic emphasized.
The Commission also recalled that one component of efforts to curb the dissemination of hate speech must also be an effort by the Member States to enforce existing domestic legal regulations both offline and online. Part of the code is a pledge by social media companies to provide information about their interventions against hate speech to the EU Member States.
The firms also want to collaborate more closely with organizations that specialize in detecting such content. In its jurisprudence, the European Court for Human Rights has introduced a distinction between content that disturbs, offends or shocks some inhabitants or state representatives, and content that represents actual, serious incitement to hatred and violence.
The Court has said that states can block or prosecute the latter speech, the Commission reminded the press during the launch. Monica Bickert, director for Facebook's global policy, said in a press release that Facebook has 1.6 billion users worldwide and that there is no place for hate speech on its pages.
"We are expending unbelievable efforts on the one hand to make it possible for people to express themselves, and on the other hand to provide an environment where mutual respect predominates," she said. Social media firms already offer in their users the option to report objectionable content, so the Code of Conduct is just an extension of their current approach.
Karen White of Twitter said there also exists a clear divide "between free speech and behavior that incites hatred and violence". Twitter has already blocked more than 125 000 accounts, primarily in connection with their promotion of the so-called Islamic State organization.
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