EU Commission, Tech Companies Agree to Code of Conduct for Hate Speech


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Welcome to the View from Brussels, a perspective from the de facto capital of Europe on the state of counterterrorism, extremism, and radicalisation throughout the European Union.

The recent terror attacks across Europe and the use of social media platforms by terrorist groups to radicalize and recruit new members has provided more urgency to tackling online hate speech, which encourages violence and extremism.

With this in mind, the European Commission, the EU’s executive body headquartered in Brussels, together with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Microsoft, unveiled on 31 May 2016 a Code of Conduct that includes a series of commitments to combat the spread of illegal hate speech online in Europe.

This initiative aims to build upon the EU Internet Forum, launched in December 2015, to ensure that online hate speech is tackled in a manner similar to that of other media channels. By signing this code, the technology companies commit to continuing their efforts to eliminate online hate speech. Companies signing the code promise to review the majority of valid notifications for removal of illegal hate speech in less than 24 hours and remove or disable access to such content, if necessary. The companies also commit to strengthening their ongoing partnerships with civil society organisations, which can help flag content that promotes incitement to violence and extremism. These companies and the European Commission commit also to continue their work in identifying and promoting counter-narratives, new ideas and initiatives, and educational programmes that encourage critical thinking.

On 4 July 2016, the European Parliament voted on draft legislation to fight terrorism “by criminalising preparatory acts” such as “public incitement or praise of terrorism” online and offline.This will give Member States the responsibility to remove illegal content hosted within their borders that, for example, glorifies or justifies  suicide bombers, incites to killings, and spreads hatred. The draft legislation also criminalises traveling abroad and training for terrorist purposes as well as contributing financially to terrorism. Members of the European Parliament also stressed the need for an efficient information and good practices sharing system between EU countries.

Additionally, this coming fall, the European Parliament is scheduled to discuss how social media platforms are being exploited by terrorist groups to radicalise and recruit vulnerable young Europeans to fight in foreign wars.

The Counter Extremism Project (CEP) welcomes the commitment of the European Parliament, the European Commission, and the technology companies to combating the spread of terrorist material and the exploitation of social media channels to facilitate and direct terrorist activities. These public-private commitments reflect what CEP has repeatedly called for as part of its  #CEPDigitalDisruption campaign. Specifically and among other things, CEP has sought (1) a more accessible reporting system for users to flag illegal content promoting hatred and inciting violence; (2) faster review and removal of such content on the part of IT companies; and (3) the establishment of a system of "trusted reporters" to provide high quality notifications for more reliable detection and faster removal.

While welcoming this formal adoption of our proposed measures, CEP’s European team will continue to closely monitor implementation on the part of technology companies and the EU Commission to ensure they do not become empty words, but represent a decisive step forward in the fight against online extremism.