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Digital Business Lawyer

European Commission lauds progress made in countering hate speech online

The European Commission (‘EC’) published on 19 January 2018 the results of its third evaluation of the Code of Conduct on countering illegal online hate speech by NGOs and public bodies; the EC stated that the Code of Conduct has “delivered steady progress in the removal of notified illegal content.” The progress made under the Code of Conduct, a voluntary initiative undertaken by multinational IT companies Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft, was evaluated on 9 January 2018 and shows that the signatories to the Code of Conduct removed on average 70% of illegal hate speech notified to them by the NGOs and public bodies participating, which is an increase from the 28% that was found to have been removed after the first evaluation in 2016.

The EC’s evaluation found that all participating IT companies have met the target of reviewing the majority of notifications within 24 hours, reaching an average of more than 81%. “Today’s results clearly show that online platforms take seriously their commitment to review notifications and remove illegal hate speech within 24 hours,” stated Andrus Ansip, European Commission Vice President for the Digital Single Market in the press release accompanying the evaluation. “I strongly encourage IT companies to improve transparency and feedback to users, in line with the guidance we published last year. It is also important that safeguards are in place to avoid over-removal and protect fundamental rights such as freedom of speech.”

The EC notes that whilst the main commitments set out in the Code of Conduct have been fulfilled, further improvements need to be achieved. The EC has identified improvements in areas including that currently the participating IT companies do not provide a sufficient amount of feedback to users in response to notifications of illegal content, stating that feedback is “lacking” for nearly a third of notifications, and there is a need for illegal hate speech offences to be effectively prosecuted to the same level as offline offences, highlighting an increase in the number of incidents reported to the police or prosecutors and an aim to establish “dedicated dialogue” between Member State authorities and IT companies by spring 2018.

The EC also announced that Google+ and Instagram are joining the Code of Conduct. “The Code of Conduct is now proving to be a valuable tool to tackle illegal content quickly and efficiently,” stated V?ra Jourová, EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality. “This shows that where there is a strong collaboration between technology companies, civil society and policy makers we can get results […] I expect IT companies to show similar determination when working on other important issues, such as the fight with terrorism, or unfavourable terms and conditions for their users.”

Under the heading ‘Next steps,’ the EC concludes that it will continue to monitor the progress of the Code of Conduct and consider additional measures if efforts are not pursued.

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