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The European Commission announced a new code of conduct which is intended to combat hate speech online. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Microsoft have agreed to abide by the code. The agreement specifically mentions that it will apply to Microsoft-hosted consumer services. Although a representative of Google was quoted in the press release, YouTube is stated to be a partner in the agreement rather than Google. Whether or not Google services other than YouTube will be affected by this deal is not entirely clear.

There is precedent for this sort of agreement. Back in December, Facebook, Twitter and Google reached an agreement with the German government to take down hate speech. However, this new agreement concerns the entire EU rather than any one single nation, and Microsoft now joins the ranks of tech companies fighting against hate speech.

The code of conduct places several duties on the companies. They must implement efficient processes to submit and review notifications of hate speech, and to remove content if required by national law. They pledge to review the majority of valid notifications within 24 hours. The companies must also educate their users about what content is not permitted on their platforms.

All four companies will work together with each other and with other social media companies to develop best practices in dealing with hate speech. The companies will also build partnerships with Civil Society Organizations(CSO). Training provided by the companies to CSO partners will allow them to fulfill the role of “trusted reporter.” These “trusted reporters” will provide “high quality notices” of hate speech.

The tech companies are not just taking down hate speech, they also agree to actively counter it with their own message. They agree to “continue their work in identifying and promoting independent counter-narratives, new ideas and initiatives and supporting educational programs that encourage critical thinking.” They will also “increase the scale of their proactive outreach to CSOs to help them deliver effective counter speech campaigns.”

The European Commission and the four companies agree to continue discussions on how to encourage “alternative narratives.” They will have regular meetings and will deliver a preliminary assessment to an EU working group which deals with combating racism, xenophobia and all forms of intolerance. This assessment will be reported to the working group before the end of 2016.

Karen White, Twitter’s Head of Public Policy for Europe, gave the following comment:

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. 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. In tandem with actioning hateful conduct that breaches Twitter’s Rules, we also leverage the platform’s incredible capabilities to empower positive voices, to challenge prejudice and to tackle the deeper root causes of intolerance. We look forward to further constructive dialogue between the European Commission, member states, our partners in civil society and our peers in the technology sector on this issue.

Lie Junius, Google’s Public Policy and Government Relations Director, stated:

We’re committed to giving people access to information through our services, but we have always prohibited illegal hate speech on our platforms. We have efficient systems to review valid notifications in less than 24 hours and to remove illegal content. We are pleased to work with the Commission to develop co- and self-regulatory approaches to fighting hate speech online.

Monika Bickert, Head of Global Policy Management at Facebook, said:

We welcome today’s announcement and the chance to continue our work with the Commission and wider tech industry to fight hate speech. With a global community of 1.6 billion people we work hard to balance giving people the power to express themselves whilst ensuring we provide a respectful environment. As we make clear in our Community Standards, there’s no place for hate speech on Facebook. We urge people to use our reporting tools if they find content that they believe violates our standards so we can investigate. Our teams around the world review these reports around the clock and take swift action.

John Frank, Vice President EU Government Affairs at Microsoft, added:

We value civility and free expression, and so our terms of use prohibit advocating violence and hate speech on Microsoft-hosted consumer services. We recently announced additional steps to specifically prohibit the posting of terrorist content. We will continue to offer our users a way to notify us when they think that our policy is being breached. Joining the Code of Conduct reconfirms our commitment to this important issue.

Do you agree with the European Commission that social media platforms need to do more to counter hate speech? Leave your comments below.

Max Michael

Senior Writer

I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.