The European Commission together with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft unveiled on May 31 a code of conduct that includes a series of commitments to combat the spread of illegal hate speech online in Europe.
The definition of illegal online content is based on the Framework Decision on Combatting Racism and Xenophobia which criminalises the public incitement to violence or hatred directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin.
The IT companies commit to continuing their efforts to tackle illegal hate speech online, the Commission said in a statement.
This will include the continued development of internal procedures and staff training to guarantee that they 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 will also endeavour to strengthen their ongoing partnerships with civil society organisations who will help flag content that promotes incitement to violence and hateful conduct. The IT companies and the European Commission also aim to continue their work in identifying and promoting independent counter-narratives, new ideas and initiatives, and supporting “educational programs that encourage critical thinking,” the statement said.
Vĕra Jourová, EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, said: “The internet is a place for free speech, not hate speech. The Code of Conduct against illegal online hate speech, agreed with IT companies today, will ensure that public incitement to violence to hatred has no place online.
“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.
The partnership will also support civil society organisations in delivering effective anti-hate campaigns to countering hateful rhetoric online.
The IT Companies and the European Commission agree to assess the public commitments in this code of conduct on a regular basis, including their impact. They also agree to further discuss how to promote transparency and encourage counter and alternative narratives. To this end, regular meetings will take place and a preliminary assessment will be reported to the High Level Group on Combating Racism, Xenophobia and all forms of intolerance by the end of 2016, the statement said.
Twitter’s Head of Public Policy for Europe, Karen White, said: “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. 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. We look forward to further constructive dialogue between the European Commission, member states, our partners in civil society and our peers in the technology sector on this issue,” White said.
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. We are pleased to work with the Commission to develop co- and self-regulatory approaches to fighting hate speech online.”
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,” she said.
“We will continue to offer our users a way to notify us when they think that our policy is being breached. Joining the Code of Conduct reconfirms our commitment to this important issue,” Frank said.