EU hate speech rules adopted by Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft

31 May 2016

Tech giants including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Microsoft have agreed to tackle hate speech notifications within 24 hours

Internet giants Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and YouTube have agreed to new European regulations that will require them to combat illegal online hate speech on their respective platforms.

The companies have signed up to a new code of conduct that will see them take the lead on stopping the spread of illegal hate speech online.

This involves putting in place processes to review notifications regarding illegal hate speech so they can swiftly remove or disable access to such content within 24 hours.

‘Social media is, unfortunately, one of the tools that terrorist groups use to radicalise young people and racists use to spread violence and hatred’

They will also be obliged to educate and raise awareness among users about the type of content not permitted on their platforms.

“The recent terror attacks have reminded us of the urgent need to address illegal online hate speech,” Vĕra Jourová, EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, said.

“Social media is, unfortunately, one of the tools that terrorist groups use to radicalise young people and racists 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. I welcome the commitment of worldwide 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,” Jourová said.

Letting the tweets flow

The EU said that while a framework decision to combat racism and xenophobia is being enforced by member states offline and online, notifications by users and reactions to them by the online platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are critical.

“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,”said Twitter’s head of Public Policy for Europe, Karen White.

“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. In tandem with actioning hateful conduct that breaches Twitter’s rules, we also leverage the platform’s incredible capabilities to empower positive voices, to challenge prejudice and to tackle the deeper root causes of intolerance.”

Google’s Public Policy and Government Relations director Lie Junius said that Google and YouTube have efficient systems to review valid notifications within 24 hours and remove illegal content.

“We are pleased to work with the Commission to develop co-and-self-regulatory approaches to fighting hate speech online.”

With a global community of 1.6bn users worldwide, Facebook’s head of Global Policy, Monica Bickert, said the social network works hard to balance free expression and ensure 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.”

Microsoft recently announced additional steps to specifically prohibit the posting of terrorist content.

“We will continue to offer our users a way to notify us when they think that our policy is being breached,” said John Frank, vice-president of EU Government Affairs at Microsoft.

Hate speech image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years