Internet giants Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube signed a pledge Tuesday with the European Commission to stop the spreading of the loosely-defined term “hate speech.”
Free speech laws are generally more regulated in European countries compared to the U.S. People have been handed fines, and in some cases shorter jail terms, for using “insulting” language against certain demographics on social media.
The major internet companies will now put a greater effort into tracking down and reporting users to authorities.
As defined in the European Union’s code of conduct, illegal hate speech refers to “certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law and national laws transposing it, means all conduct publicly inciting to violence or hatred directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, color, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin.”
The issue is two-fold, according to Vera Jourova, the EU commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality. The main part is to combat certain language on the websites. The other part is to crank down on terrorist recruitment, which doesn’t necessarily overlap with direct hate speech.
“The recent terror attacks have reminded us of the urgent need to address illegal online hate speech,” Jourova said in a press release. “Social media is unfortunately one of the tools that terrorist groups use to radicalize young people and racist use to spread violence and hatred.”
Twitter and Facebook both said they were pleased with the code of conduct, and they vow to promote “independent counter narratives.” They also urge their users to report any language they find suspicious.
“Hateful conduct has no place on Twitter and we will continue to tackle this issue head on alongside our partners in industry and civil society,” Karen White, Twitter’s Head of Public Policy, said in the press release. “We remain committed to letting the Tweets flow. However, there is a clear distinction between freedom of expression and conduct that incites violence and hate.”
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