EU says tech companies are stepping up efforts to remove hate speech

19 Jan 2018

European Commission headquarters in Brussels. Image: areporter/Shutterstock

The EU Code of Conduct initiative to counter hate speech is showing results.

In a bid to battle racism, xenophobia and other forms of hate speech online, the EU Code of Conduct was established in May 2016.

The findings from the third evaluation of the initiative show that companies remove 70pc of illegal hate speech notified to them.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft were the first companies to join the initiative, and will now be joined by Google Plus and Instagram. This expansion of participating firms will go a long way towards combating hate speech on the internet.

Online platforms taking their role seriously

Andrus Ansip, European Commission (EC) vice-president for the Digital Single Market, warmly welcomed these improvements: “Today’s results clearly show that online platforms take seriously their commitment to review notifications and remove illegal hate speech within 24 hours.

“I strongly encourage IT companies to improve transparency and feedback to users, in line with the guidance we published last year. It is also important that safeguards are in place to avoid over-removal and protect fundamental rights such as freedom of speech.”

The average figure of 70pc removal is a major increase from just 28pc in the first monitoring round in 2016. Today, all participating companies fully meet the target of reviewing the majority of hate speech notifications and reports within 24 hours.

Twitter leads the pack

Twitter showed that it reviewed 80.2pc of content within the 24-hour timeframe, and Facebook upped its stats from 57.9pc to 89.3pc compared to the previous review period.

While the main commitments have been fulfilled, there is still some room for improvement in some areas.

Feedback to users that make complaints is still lacking for almost one-third of notifications on average, and transparency around this feedback also needs to be boosted.

The Code of Conduct complements existing EU legislation fighting racism and xenophobia, which requires the prosecution of hate speech authors whether offline or online.

One in five of the cases reported to participating tech firms were also flagged by NGOs to prosecutors or law enforcement – a figure that has more than doubled since the last monitoring report.

The EC has provided a network to offer cooperation opportunities between firms, the authorities and civil society.

The next steps for the Code of Conduct include regular monitoring implementation of the rules with the help of civil society organisations, with the hope of widening the scope of it to more online platforms.

Additional measures will likely be taken by the EU if progress stalls or moves backwards.

The internet should be a safe place

Vĕra Jourová, EU commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality, said: “The internet must be a safe place, free from illegal hate speech, free from xenophobic and racist content.

“The Code of Conduct is now proving to be a valuable tool to tackle illegal content quickly and efficiently.

“This shows that where there is a strong collaboration between technology companies, civil society and policymakers, we can get results and, at the same time, preserve freedom of speech.”

Jourová said she expects IT companies to show similar determination when working on other important issues, such as counterterrorism efforts or proprietary terms and conditions that affect users in negative ways.

The figures show a clear response from major tech companies in the face of mounting political pressure to take more responsibility for their hosted content.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects