Some tech giants such as Facebook (NASDAQ: FB), Twitter (NYSE: TWTR), YouTube and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) agreed on Tuesday to be part of the European Commission’s code of conduct. The agreement is an attempt to combat the spread of illegal hate speech online in Europe.

The IT companies agreed to some measures aimed at ensuring that the online platforms do not offer opportunities for the hate speech to spread virally. The effort comes in response to the terrorist radicalization that takes place in social media and targets young people, which was corroborated after Europe’s latest terrorist attacks.

The code of conduct is a voluntary commitment that will not emerge penalties if it is unfulfilled
The code of conduct is a voluntary commitment that will not emerge penalties if it is unfulfilled. Image Credit: Android

A determination was made by the companies to continuing developing internal procedures and staff training to guarantee that they review the majority of valid notifications for the removal of the illegal hate speech, in less than 24 hours and remove or disable access to such content, the European Commission noted in a press release.

The companies will endeavor to strengthen their partnerships with civil society, who will be the ones helping to flag the compromising content. In addition, they will continue their work in identifying and promoting independent counter-narratives, new ideas and initiatives, as well as supporting educational programs that encourage critical thinking.

“The recent terror attacks have reminded us of the urgent need to address illegal online hate speech. Social media is unfortunately one of the tools that terrorist groups use to radicalise young people and racist use to spread violence and hatred,” said Vĕra Jourová, EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality. “This agreement is an important step forward to ensure that the internet remains a place of free and democratic expression, where European values and laws are respected.”

The code of conduct is a voluntary commitment that will not emerge penalties if it is unfulfilled. Efforts have been put by the Commission to advance in this hate-speech measures that are more a ‘notice-and-action’ procedure that begins with someone notifying a hosting service provider, according to the e-Commerce Directive.

After the vendor is notified of the illegal content, an action should be taken regarding the situation.  Whether is a social network, an e-commerce platform or a company that host websites, vendors must take action. And this will be the end of their commitment in this area.

Tackling the issue

Some positives responses from the tech giants have emerged after their inclusion in the code of conduct was finalized. Most of them commented on their commitment to do as they can to assured calls for violence and hate do not take place at their websites.

According to Twitter’s Head of Public Policy for Europe, Karen White, Hateful conduct does not have a place on Twitter, and they will continue to tackle the issue head on alongside their partners in industry and civil society.

They remain committed to letting the Tweets ‘flow’, White said. However, there is a clear distinction between freedom of expression and conduct that incites violence and hate, she added.

But although some content will be banned, Twitter said that will leverage the platform’s capabilities to empower some positives voices among them, which challenge prejudice and tackle the deeper root causes of intolerance.

Google’s Public Policy and Government Relations Director, Lie Junius as well highlighted their commitment to giving people access to information through their services, but they always assured to have prohibited illegal hate speech on their platforms. The search engine company commented they have efficient systems to review valid notification in the suggested time frame of 24-hours and to remove such an illegal content.

Public’s reactions

The news of the commitment reached each member of the civil society different, according to some statements made by civic groups advocates. Some of them were positive reactions to the code of conduct, although there were some very negatives ones too.

The European commission's challenge against Google is a defining case for Europe in testing its regulatory
The European commission’s challenge against Google is a defining case for Europe in testing it is regulatory. Image Credit: Home BT

The European Jewish Congress celebrated today’s agreement by addressing to it as something that could not have arrived at a better time. The organization, among many others groups of the same origin, have been outspoken about the need to crack down on online abuse, as reported by Christian Science Monitor.

But there are some different opinions. Even though a part of the agreement includes the assessment of the public’s notice in this code of conduct on a regular basis, some condemn the code of conduct. Including its impact, organizations such as European Digital Rights (EDRi) see it as a threat to free speech. They also criticized that the agreement did not include any local representative in its proposal.

The organizations argued that the code of conduct downgrades the law to a second-class status behind the leading role of the private companies that are being asked to implement their terms of service arbitrarily, the EDRi said in a conjoined statement with its members.

“This process, established outside an accountable democratic framework, exploits unclear liability rules for companies,” the EDri added. “It also creates serious risks for freedom of expression as legal but controversial content may well be deleted as a result of this voluntary and unaccountable take down mechanism.”

Source: European Commission