european commissionA number of big names have announced a “Code of Conduct” governing “illegal hate speech” online in the EU.  These names are:

  • The European Commission
  • Facebook
  • Google (YouTube
  • Twitter
  • Microsoft

The various involved entities issued a statement that explained the new framework earlier today:

In order to prevent the spread of illegal hate speech, it is essential to ensure that relevant national laws transposing the Council Framework Decision on combating racism and xenophobia are fully enforced by Member States in the online as well as the in the offline environment. While the effective application of provisions criminalising hate speech is dependent on a robust system of enforcement of criminal law sanctions against the individual perpetrators of hate speech, this work must be complemented with actions geared at ensuring that illegal hate speech online is expeditiously reviewed by online intermediaries and social media platforms, upon receipt of a valid notification, in an appropriate time-frame. To be considered valid in this respect, a notification should not be insufficiently precise or inadequately substantiated.

Basically, it looks like this framework isn’t much different from a copyright-related takedown procedure.  Once there is notice of the prohibited hate speech, the aforementioned tech companies will either disable or remove the targeted content within 24 hours.

The disabling or removal of the content isn’t where they’re going to stop either, as there will be a series of commitments to educate and counter “hateful rhetoric and prejudice” that the various companies have pledged to undertake.

Illegal hate speech is defined under European law as follows:

  • public incitement to violence or hatred directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined on the basis of race, colour, descent, religion or belief, or national or ethnic origin . . .
  • publicly condoning, denying or grossly trivialising crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes as defined in the Statute of the International Criminal Court (Articles 6, 7 and 8) and crimes defined in Article 6 of the Charter of the International Military Tribunal, when the conduct is carried out in a manner likely to incite violence or hatred against such a group or a member of such a group.

Although the historical backdrop of the law is the Holocaust, a number of recent events, including a wave of terrorist acts across Europe, are feeding in to the concerns expressed in the Code of Conduct.

We all can see that this Code of Conduct is being made with the best intentions, but there is a consortium of European civil and human rights groups that have criticized the process generating the Code of Conduct, as well as its enforcement mechanisms and substance.  This Code of Conduct is being called a threat to freedom of expression in Europe:

In short, the “code of conduct” downgrades the law to a second-class status, behind the “leading role” of private companies that are being asked to arbitrarily implement their terms of service. This process, established outside an accountable democratic framework, exploits unclear liability rules for companies. 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.

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