On August 13, 2017, suspected al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) gunmen opened fire on a Turkish restaurant and hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. 19 people were killed and 22 others were wounded.
After a series of terror attacks earlier this year in Austria and France, the European Union, its member states, and the United Kingdom are taking new steps to reduce online extremism and stem the dissemination of terrorist propaganda.
In Austria, where a gunman in Vienna killed four people and wounded more than 20 others in November, the National Council passed a package of legislation last week to combat “hate on the net,” including measures that will require online platforms to immediately remove illegal and extremist content from their site, allow for the government to issue injunctions more quickly, and ease the process by which online offenders are investigated.
In France, where attacks in Nice, Paris, and Conflans-Sainte-Honorine have rattled the nation since September, the government introduced draft legislation that would tighten restrictions on online hate speech and make it illegal to share or maliciously reveal personal details about other people online. To further strengthen these measures, the French government is also reportedly considering amendments that would “impose cooperation rules” on tech companies in order to help identify users who post and share hate speech, as well obligate platforms to be more transparent about their processes for moderating content.
In the United Kingdom, the government reportedly plans to introduce the “Online Harms Bill,” which would hold social media platforms accountable for monitoring for removing extremist content and fine those sites that do not comply.
Lastly, EU lawmakers reached a tentative agreement last week that would entitle authorities in all 27 member states to remove terrorist content online or to disable access to it within one hour. The provisional deal would apply to all online providers offering services in the EU, irrespective of the location of their headquarters. The EU also proposed new measures on Tuesday under the Digital Services Act (DSA) that would require large tech companies like Facebook to take greater responsibility for policing the Internet, or face fines of up to six percent of total turnover, or revenue, from the previous fiscal year.
Counter Extremism Project (CEP) Executive Director David Ibsen previously spoke in support of such measures. He stated, “Online radicalization is one of the most insidious threats facing European citizens as extremists exploit social media to spread their propaganda easily and quickly, explicitly targeting those most vulnerable to their messaging … More concrete action against online terrorist content must continue to materialize across the European Union. Only through sustained determination and coordination through the Member States can online extremism be fought and ultimately eradicated.”
Responding to critics of content moderation laws, Ibsen has further said that, “While freedom of expression must be respected, removing harmful content is vital in the fight against hate speech and online terror. Those who argue that such regulations are a vessel of censorship are allowing the constant propagation of hate, disinformation and radicalisation online. The internet should not be a lawless space and private companies should not dictate the rules. Hate speech and terrorist content should, and will not, be tolerated online. This is a once-in-a-generation chance to stand up against online extremism.”
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