Fight against illegal hate speech shows improvement

Fight against illegal hate speech shows improvement

The third evaluation of the Code of Conduct on countering illegal online hate speech released by the European Commission last Friday shows that IT companies removed on average 70% of illegal hate speech notified to them. The IT companies also meet the target of reviewing the majority of notifications of illegal hate speech within 24 hours, reaching an average of more than 81%.

However, some further challenges still remain. Feedback to users is still lacking for nearly a third of notifications on average, with different response rates from different IT companies. Some countries with a removal rate of less than 50 % seem to be lagging behind.

On average one in five cases reported to companies were also reported by NGOs to the police or prosecutors. This figure has more than doubled since the last monitoring report. The Commission underlines that such cases need to be promptly investigated by the police.

Illegal hate speech is defined in EU law as the public incitement to violence or hatred directed to groups or individuals on the basis of certain characteristics, including race, colour, religion, descent and national or ethnic origin.

Since May 2016, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft have committed to combatting the spread of such content in Europe through a Code of Conduct adopted by the European Commission.

Google+ announced Friday (19 January) that they are joining the Code of Conduct, and Facebook confirmed that Instagram would also do so, thus further expanding the numbers of actors covered by it.

"The Internet must be a safe place, free from illegal hate speech, free from xenophobic and racist content. The Code of Conduct is now proving to be a valuable tool to tackle illegal content quickly and efficiently,” said Vĕra Jourová, EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality.

At the press conference on Friday, Jourová congratulated the IT companies for keeping their commitments and said that she would present the results at next Council meeting with the justice ministers in the EU member states.

“The Code of Conduct works as a voluntary tool to enforce legislation against hate speech and further legislation is not likely,” she added. She was convinced that the results which are based on a sample of notifications made by NGOs and public bodies reflect the real picture.

Asked by The Brussels Times about the removal rate, the Commissioner said that she does not expect to achieve a rate of 100 %. “In case of doubt the content should remain.”

A Commission official added that “we are weary of the fact that the assessment of what is illegal hate speech is not always straight forward. It cannot be ruled out that some of the notifications that have been submitted in the context of the monitoring exercise are relating to such grey area content”.

“Actions by the IT Platforms are very much dependent on the illegal content being reported to them. We should not forget the role of citizens and users of social media. We can all contribute to a hate free online environment by reporting illegal racists and xenophobic hate speech when we see it.”

As a follow up to the monitoring exercise, the Commission intends to invite IT companies and the organisations participating in the exercise to discuss individual results to draw lessons for the future.

M. Apelblat
The Brussels Times

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