Commentary

EU Tightens Hate Speech Rules

Amid growing concern about terrorist recruitment, trolling and cyber-bullying, the European Union has introduced new, stricter rules governing how online platforms handle requests to remove hate speech and other offensive content. Big tech companies including Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft have all agree to the code of conduct, announced this week.

According to the new rules, companies that operate online communication services must review, and if necessary remove, the majority of flagged content within 24 hours of the initial request. That will put even more pressure on teams of human moderators who may already be overstretched, in addition to facing the challenge of applying different rules in different jurisdictions.

Furthermore, tech companies may be required to develop “counter-narratives” to combat hate speech online, implying lengthy efforts to actually engage with users who post hate speech online, and their audiences, in discussion.

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Many types of offensive speech that would be legal in the United States are illegal in Europe at the national or EU level, including expressions seen to be inciting ethnic or religious hatred, as well as calls for violence or discrimination against certain classes of people.

These bans have drawn more attention with the rise of terrorist propaganda and recruiting efforts by groups like ISIS, which preach hatred and call for violent attacks against a wide range of people including non-Muslims, Shia Muslims, and Sunni Muslims who disagree with ISIS, all in the name of religion.

According to Europol, the EU police organization, Twitter has removed 125,000 accounts created by terrorist sympathizers in less than a year, although determined users often simply open new accounts in an endless game of cat and mouse.

Last year a study by the George Washington University Program on Extremism, analyzed the activities of 71 people arrested on charges of supporting ISIS, as well as 300 more moving in the terrorist online milieu, and found that Twitter was clearly the favorite social media platform among U.S. ISIS supporters.

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