EU welcomes progress in removing internet hate speech

Vĕra Jourová © Annika Haas
Vĕra Jourová © Annika Haas

A report monitoring Europe’s code of conduct on countering illegal internet hate speech suggests good progress has been made by IT companies.

The code of conduct was adopted in 2016 by Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and Youtube. Today, in light of the progress highlighted in the report, Google+ and Instagram have announced that they will join these companies in being covered by the code. The report contains findings from the third round of evaluations – which was undertaken in December 2017 – and was published today.

What progress was made?

This third round of evaluations was carried out by NGOs and public bodies. It showed that the companies now remove 70% of illegal internet hate speech that is reported to them. This represents an impressive increase over the removal rate of 59% reported in the prior monitoring exercise in May 2017. During the first evaluation round, the rate of removal was 28%, meaning that the companies’ efforts to remove hate speech are steadily increasing.

Further, an increasing number of companies are fulfilling their commitment to remove this content within 24 hours. All of the companies are meeting the target of reviewing a majority of notifications within 24 hours, reaching an average of 81% of complaints between them. This has doubled since the first round of monitoring.

What did the commission say?

The European Commissioner for Justice, Vĕra Jourová, welcomed the progress that the code of conduct has already made: “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.”

Jourová implored the companies to extend their efforts beyond the internet hate speech covered by the code of conduct for the sake of user experience: “Where there is a strong collaboration between technology companies, civil society and policy makers we can get results, and at the same time, preserve freedom of speech. I expect IT companies to show similar determination when working on other important issues, such as the fight with terrorism, or unfavourable terms and conditions for their users.”

What areas can be improved?

The report warns that transparent feedback is still lacking to around one third of users, although this rate differed between the companies. Further, the code of conduct is designed to complement existing legislation against internet hate speech, with one in five cases reported to companies also reported to the police. The commission recommends the created of a national contact point responsible for internet hate speech.

Andrus Ansip, the European Commission Vice President for the Digital Single Market, emphasised the next steps for the companies to make an even bigger impact: “I strongly encourage IT companies to improve transparency and feedback to users, in line with the guidance we published last year. It is also important that safeguards are in place to avoid over-removal and protect fundamental rights such as freedom of speech.”

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