European Commission hails success of anti-hate speech initiative, less likely to legislate

The European Commission today presented the third evaluation of the Code of Conduct on countering illegal online hate speech. Among other things, it showed that IT companies now on average removed 70% of illegal hate speech notified to them, compared to only 28% in 2016. The Commission also indicated that it was more likely to support the continuation of the current voluntary approach.

100% removal rate not a target

Initially, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Microsoft signed the code of conduct in 2016, pledging to remove the majority of illegal hate speech within 24 hours. Google+ as well as Instagram also confirmed today that they would join the imitative.

As well as 70% of the illegal hate speech notified to the IT companies being removed, the European Commission also highlighted that over 80% of requests made by social media users and trusted flaggers are now reviewed within 24 hours.

Justice Commissioner Vĕra Jourová however indicated that the Commission’s goal was never 100% of flagged hate speech messages being removed, saying “I will never tell you that we will invent the method and the process which will delete within 24 hours 100% of illegal content. That’s the Chinese way of doing it, to switch it off. And that is not where Europe is directing.”

“In case of doubt, we should have the messages remain.”

These measures have provoked concern among some citizens that the internet is being censored gradually more and more, and that it should remain an open zone and vague ‘hate speech’ should not removed. Further measures could potentially be taken restricting the internet even more in future, in their view.

No court needed to determine racism or xenophobia

Commissioner Jourová pointed out that she often received questions about whether or not IT companies should be deciding what is or isn’t illegal. “The Code of Conduct is a tool to enforce the existing law in Europe against racism and xenophobia. In their everyday business, companies, citizens, everyone, has to make sure they respect the law. They do not need a court order to do so.”

“You do not necessarily need a court order to know when someone wrote something racist or xenophobic.”

Commission less likely to introduce legislation

The Commissioner also warned that good results don’t mean the tech companies get a free pass. She said that the Commission can “always consider additional measures if efforts are not pursued or slowed down, though she also said that the results strengthened her view that the issue should continue to be tackled through the current, voluntary approach.

Image source© European Union, 2018, Gaspare Dario Pignatelli

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