EU online hate speech rules: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Microsoft agree EU deal on ‘removing hate speech’

EU online hate speech rules: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Microsoft agree EU deal on removing hate speech

European Commission and IT Companies announce Code of Conduct on illegal online hate speech.

Tech companies Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Google, owner of video service YouTube, agreed Tuesday to new rules from the European Union on how they manage hate speech infiltrating their networks.

The rules push companies to review requests to remove illegal online hate speech within 24 hours and respond accordingly, as well as raise awareness among users on what content is appropriate for their services.

In a joint statement from the European Commission and the companies involved, both sides say they recognize the “collective responsibility” to keep online spaces open for users to freely share their opinions.

“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,” said Vĕra Jourová, the EU’s EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, in a statement.

In March, 32 people were killed in bombings at an airport and subway station in Brussels. The attacks and recent efforts by terrorist groups to recruit new members through social media including Facebook and YouTube prompted the new rule changes.

“The recent terror attacks have reminded us of the urgent need to address illegal online hate speech,” said Jourová. “Social media is unfortunately one of the tools that terrorist groups use to radicalize young people and racists use to spread violence and hatred.”

Some U.S. privacy rights groups expressed concern that the agreement sets a dangerous precedent because the removals will be based on flagging by third parties.

“It does not address that different speech is deemed illegal in different jurisdictions, nor how such ‘voluntary agreements’ between the private sector and state might be imitated or misused outside Europe,” said Danny O’Brien, international director of the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, an online civic rights group.

However, some U.S. groups concerned about cyber hate hailed the agreement. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Digital Terrorism and Hate Project, called it a significant step in efforts to stop terrorists and extremists from leveraging the power of social media platforms.

He called upon U.S. companies to help in the effort. For example, he said a posting about an ancient slur on Jews that they use the blood of Christian children for ritual purposes would be removed in Germany, but remain untouched if posted through a U.S. server.

“Hate is hate and if a social media company would remove such postings from its online pages in Germany, it should do the same globally,” he said.