Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Microsoft, and the European Commission unveiled a new code of conduct today to remove hate speech across these social media platforms. Following the terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris, the EU governments have been trying to crack down on the online racism and hate speech. The commission and the tech giants have vowed to remove the illegal content within 24 hours. However, civil society groups believe the vaguely defined code could damage freedom of expression.
Tech titans join EU's efforts to remove online hate speech
Terrorist organizations have successfully used social media to recruit fighters and spew hatred online over the past few years, and the presence of far-right political groups leads to even more racism and xenophobia. The EU is specifically facing the issue after the refugee crisis and terror attacks. Leading tech companies and social networking sites, including Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft have all now vowed to remove illegal online hate speech within 24 hours.
"The recent terror attacks have reminded us of the urgent need to address illegal online hate speech," Vera Jourova, European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, said in a statement.
Social media is unfortunately one of the tools that terrorist groups use to radicalise young people and racist use to spread violence and hatred. This agreement is an important step forward to ensure that the Internet remains a place of free and democratic expression, where European values and laws are respected.
As part of today's pledge with the Commission, the tech leaders will review the "valid notifications" of removal of hate speech within 24 hours of submission and remove or disable access to the content, where necessary.
— Věra Jourová (@VeraJourova) May 31, 2016
Tech companies will now have to find the right balance between freedom of expression and hate speech. According to the EU code of conduct, they will have dedicated teams reviewing the flagged content within 24 hours. This is nothing new, as these companies already have the tools to counter hate speech online. With today's pledge to the EU code of conduct, they will ramp up their current efforts and cooperation with the civil society to be more efficient and aggressive about the removal of hateful content. These companies have agreed to not only the code of the conduct but also to working closely with civil society organizations that help flag extremist and hateful content online and offer "counter-narratives" to hate speech.
Civil society organizations, European Digital Rights (EDRi) and Access Now, however, do not have confidence in the code of conduct. The groups believe that the civil society and public opinion has been "systematically excluded from the negotiations," and the process of creation of this code of conduct lacks transparency. The groups believe that the hate speech and terrorist activity is "vaguely defined" in the document and that the tech companies will take the lead in "policing controversial speech online," which should be overseen by law enforcement.
They have also pointed out that the agreement could in fact damage freedom of expression by allowing private companies to define what constitutes hate speech.