The European Commission together with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft have today unveiled a code of conduct that includes a series of commitments to combat the spread of illegal hate speech online in Europe.
The code is seen as part of the response to the challenge of ensuring that online platforms do not offer opportunities for illegal online hate speech to spread virally.
While the effective application of provisions criminalising hate speech is dependent on a robust system of enforcement of criminal law sanctions against the individual perpetrators of hate speech, the Commission and IT companies recognised such work must be complemented with actions geared at ensuring illegal hate speech online is expeditiously reviewed by online intermediaries and social media platforms, upon receipt of a valid notification, in an appropriate time-frame. However, they did argue that to be considered valid in this respect, a notification should not be insufficiently precise or inadequately substantiated.
Twitter’s Head of Public Policy for Europe, Karen White, commented: “Hateful conduct has no place on Twitter and we will continue to tackle this issue head on alongside our partners in industry and civil society. We remain committed to letting the Tweets flow. However, there is a clear distinction between freedom of expression and conduct that incites violence and hate.”
Google’s Public Policy and Government Relations Director, Lie Junius, said: “We’re committed to giving people access to information through our services, but we have always prohibited illegal hate speech on our platforms. We have efficient systems to review valid notifications in less than 24 hours and to remove illegal content.”
Monika Bickert, Head of Global Policy Management at Facebook said: “We welcome today’s announcement and the chance to continue our work with the Commission and wider tech industry to fight hate speech. With a global community of 1.6 billion people we work hard to balance giving people the power to express themselves whilst ensuring we provide a respectful environment. As we make clear in our Community Standards, there’s no place for hate speech on Facebook. We urge people to use our reporting tools if they find content that they believe violates our standards so we can investigate. Our teams around the world review these reports around the clock and take swift action.”
The code of conduct includes the following public commitments:
- The IT Companies to have in place clear and effective processes to review notifications regarding illegal hate speech on their services so they can remove or disable access to such content.
- Upon receipt of a valid removal notification, the IT Companies to review such requests against their rules and community guidelines and where necessary national laws.
- The IT Companies to review the majority of valid notifications for removal of illegal hate speech in less than 24 hours and remove or disable access to such content, if necessary.
- The IT Companies to educate and raise awareness with their users about the types of content not permitted under their rules and community guidelines.
- The IT Companies to encourage the provision of notices and flagging of content that promotes incitement to violence and hateful conduct at scale by experts.
- The IT Companies to provide regular training to their staff on current societal developments and to exchange views on the potential for further improvement.
- The IT Companies to intensify cooperation between themselves and other platforms and social media companies to enhance best practice sharing.
- The IT Companies and the European Commission, recognising the value of independent counter speech against hateful rhetoric and prejudice, aim to continue their work in identifying and promoting independent counter-narratives, new ideas and initiatives and supporting educational programs that encourage critical thinking.
However, considering the sheer scale of anti-Semitic and other hate speech that floods social media platforms and the suspect nature of the IT companies response to it, we believe many in the community will wait to see the results of this initiative in action before endorsing it.