The web’s biggest tech companies—Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Microsoft—are now working with the European Commission to unveil a new code of conduct over hate speech. The hope, of course, is to remove instances of this in line with specific community guidelines within 24 hours across all of these many social media platforms. Of course, the EU has already increased efforts in preparation of this after the recent terrorist attacks in both Paris and Brussels.
ISIS, as you may know, has been quite successful at using social media to spread their message and, more importantly, to recruit fighters, over the past several years. On top of that, the European economic recession has helped to establish parties on the far-right of the political spectrum which, of course, has increased more xenophobia and antisemitism on the internet.
It is probably safe to assume tech companies do not want to be held responsible for hate speech—and rightfully they should not—but they are ramping up efforts to minimize them. It is a somewhat surprising move, of course, because social media is supposed to be about freedom of expression; many refusing to delete content or whole accounts regardless of their disharmonious activity. However, there is a great difference between sharing a dissident opinion and simply being a dissident.
“The recent terror attacks have reminded us of the urgent need to address illegal online hate speech,” Vĕra Jourová, who is the EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality,explained in a recent European Commission press release. “Social media is unfortunately one of the tools that terrorist groups use to radicalise young people and racist use to spread violence and hatred. 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.”
In addition, though, tech companies also aim to educate users on what, exactly, is hateful content, also instructing them that it is forbidden to post it. Each of these companies—and the EU, and probably many others down the road—will continue to work together to share best practices. The hope, of course, is that they can encourage each other to flag hateful content and to promote counter speech against all of the hateful rhetoric that seems to continue plaguing web users.
It is most encouraging, though, that the EU is not forcing tech companies to deal with these issues on their own. Setting their own rules on this matter will, hopefully, make it easier for tech companies to focus on providing their service instead of protecting users from hate speech.