EU presses tech firms to eradicate online hate speech

European Commission

The European Commission has announced it will enforce regulations on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, and YouTube if they do not increase their efforts to remove and prevent illegal content on their platforms independently by next May.

New guidelines from the EC have effectively spelt out how technology firms can tackle online hate speech, inviting them to step-up their efforts to curtail hate speech voluntarily rather than for the EU to apply additional pressure through regulation.

"Currently, a harmonised and coherent approach to the removal of illegal content does not exist in the EU. A more aligned approach however would make the fight against illegal content more effective. It would also benefit the development of the Digital Single Market and reduce the cost of compliance with a multitude of rules for online platforms, including for new entrants," the European Commission explained.

The fight to prevent offensive language on social media platforms, however, is not a new one. In 2016, these companies signed a Code of Content forcing them to delete and block hateful posts within 24 hours.

This agreement has been successful, with the removal of hate speech increasing from 28% to 59%. However, according to the EC, a significant amount of these removals are taking up to a week, which many believe is far too long.

For example, these sites have been under scrutiny numerous times over the past year or so for failing to meet standards on attacking hate speech. Earlier this year France and the UK announced they were seeking to punish companies that fail to remove hate speech with fines, and numerous MPs have also recently complained about social media's actions toward hate speech.

The EC's new guidelines hope to correct these complaints and problems by outlining a "European approach to address illegal content for online platforms, combining the need for fast and effective removal of illegal content and prevention and prosecution of crimes with safeguarding the right to free speech online".

The document records the EC's expectations when it comes to combating hateful content. For one, it wants companies to allow anyone to report negative content, specifically by using third party monitors and "trusted flaggers" which specialise in the identification of illegal content.

The EC also wants companies to have a more effective removal process dictated by a deadline and a more intense process for the prevention of reposts and repeat offenders.

While this Code of Conduct has made significant strides towards the eradication of hate speech, the EC feels it still has a long way to go to tackle hate speech across the EU. On December 6 this year, the Commission will meet to discuss progress and decide how to move forward.