On Thursday (01/06/2017) EU Commissioner Vera Jourova presented the results of the second review of the code of conduct combating illegal online hate speech. “A year ago, when we launched it, there was a lot of skepticism. Some thought it could be a step towards censorship on the Internet, but today’s results are encouraging,” said Jourova. On average, in 59 % of the cases, the IT companies removed illegal content flagged to them. This is more than twice the level of 28 % that was recorded six months earlier.
IT companies, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft last year signed up to the voluntary code to take action in Europe within 24 hours, following rising concerns about the increase of racist and xenophobic content on social media which was triggered by the refugee crisis and attacks in Western Europe. After signing the code they became be responsible to have either regulations or guidelines to make clear that “promotion of incitement to violence and hateful conduct” is prohibited.
According to the last findings, the amount of notifications reviewed within 24 hours improved from 40 % to 51 % over the last six months, but the results vary between companies. “While Facebook fulfills the commitments on a swift check and removal and is the only one that fully achieves the target of reviewing the majority of notifications within the day, others need to further approve removal rates and act quicker,” reported Jourova.
Twitter removed hate speech from its network less than 40 percent of the time after such content had been flagged to the company. That shows significant improvement from the last year’s study, which found that it removed a mere 19 percent of hate speech when notified, but it still failed to meet the European standard.
Companies are also taking better into account the content, flagged by general public, as before they mainly considered content flagged by trusted reporters, and try to give more feedback on how the notifications are assessed.
The European Commission and IT companies both pointed out the importance of freedom of expression when the code was published. However, in a comprehensive review of the Code, Article 19 concluded that such measures could still negatively affect freedom of expression and increase censorship by private companies on their online platforms.
In that context, Jourova drew attention to a recent survey which showed that 75 % of those participating in debates online had come across episodes of hate speech, abuse, threat, which deterred them from engaging in online discussion. “So we are not limiting free speech, but enabling it, fostering more discussions and exchange. Radicalization of young people also happens a lot online, so this is a fight against terrorism as well,” she concluded.
The Commissioner will discuss the results of the second review with justice ministries this week. In her proposal, she will focus on the following:
- to continue the monitoring in cooperation with civil society and IT companies,
- to work towards increasing transparency by the companies’ feedback to users on how notices are assessed,
- to promote and encourage cooperation between national authorities and IT companies namely through national contact points,
- and on outreach to further companies.