EU Pressures Social Media Firms Over Hate Speech

The European Commission has confirmed it is to consider enacting new laws governing online hate speech in the wake of a report that found social media outlets were too slow to remove reported content.

The report, set to be discussed by the EU justice commission this week, evaluated how companies such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Microsoft have dealt with hate speech in the six months since they agreed a code of conduct with the EU in May.

‘Stronger efforts’ needed

It arrives amidst concern over “fake news” that proliferated on such sites during the US election, and online hate speech triggered by the refugee crisis.

Under the terms of the voluntary code the companies are required to review the majority of reported hate speech within 24 hours, remove it if necessary and also develop “counter-narratives” to combat hate rhetoric.

But the report found that of 600 recorded notifications the companies had only reviewed 40 percent within 24 hours, rising to more than 80 percent after 48 hours. Twitter was the slowest to respond, while YouTube was the fastest, the report said.

The figures show the target can “realistically” be achieved, but “this will need much stronger efforts by the IT companies”, the Commission stated.

Varied response

It confirmed comments by EU justice commissioner Vera Jourova in the Financial Times on Sunday that laws might need to be enacted.

“If Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Microsoft want to convince me and the ministers that the non-legislative approach can work, they will have to act quickly and make a strong effort in the coming months,” she told the paper, calling on social media companies to “take up their share of responsibility”.

Of the recorded cases, 316 were deemed to require a response, and of those 163 were deleted while 153 were found not to breach legal or community guidelines.

The proportion of posts removed varied widely, reaching over 50 percent in Germany and France but 11 percent in Austria and four percent in Italy.

EU justice ministers are to meet in Brussels to discuss the report on Thursday.

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Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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