Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Microsoft agree to EU’s hate-speech crackdown

European fans of soccer (sorry, “football” as they call it across the pond) have been known at times to be, well…”passionate” might be a kind way of describing their feelings toward their teams, and about their rivals.

Well, those fans looking to talk smack online, and anyone else, for that matter, are about to find their words getting a little more scrutinized by four of the world’s biggest tech and social-media companies, which are going to throw more of their considerable weight behind efforts to clamp down on online hate speech in Europe.

On Tuesday, the European Commission, which is the enforcement agency for the European Union, said Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet’s YouTube have agreed to a new code of conduct designed to combat hate speech online, and remove any such language as quickly as possible.

While what makes up “hate speech” remains a matter of debate in some circles, the code of conduct appears to be primarily driven in reaction to terror attacks in the last few months that killed at least 150 people in Paris and Brussels, and the use of social media to promote such violent actions and ideologies.

“The recent terror attacks and the use of social media by terrorist groups to radicalise young people have given more urgency to tackling this issue,” said the European Commission in its statement announcing the code of conduct.

As part of their agreement, the tech companies have agreed to take steps to “educate and raise awareness” with their users about what kinds of content and speech won’t be tolerated, and to set up a process to review any notifications they receive. Such hate speech complaints are to be removed or have their access disabled within 24 hours once they have been notified and reviewed.

The whole process sounds admirable, but, again, aside from the mentions of terrorist content and “hate speech,” not much is said about just what words, statements and other communications will qualify for removal. There is almost nothing that specifically says “You can’t say ___.”

And the companies involved? Well, they said the kinds of things you might expect from large corporations that are trying to not say too much, but still want to look like they are on the right side of an issue.

  • “We are pleased to work with the Commission to develop co- and self-regulatory approaches to fighting hate speech online.” — Lie Junius, public policy and government relations director for Google.
  • “We welcome today’s announcement and the chance to continue our work with the Commission and wider tech industry to fight hate speech.” — Monica Bickert, Facebook’s head of global policy management.
  • “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.” — John Frank, vice president, EU government affairs at Microsoft.
  • “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.” — Karen White, Twitter’s head of public policy for Europe.

As far as what words might get flagged by the code of conduct’s Big Four, well, soccer sympathies will surely get someone’s blood boiling when the next season of England’s Premier League kicks off. It’s probably fair to say that someone who follows Arsenal might have some choice words to say about Tottenham Hotspur fans, and vice versa, especially if their team is getting kicked around on the pitch. And those words might soon get them kicked off their social media sites, too.

Photo: Screenshot from a Facebook page that doesn’t work. (Bay Area News Group archives)


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  • alrui

    The fact these services are squelching free speech at the request of government agencies is the best reason NOT TO USE such services!