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EU Warns US Tech Firms To Curb Hate Speech
Posted December 5, 2016
EU Warns US Tech Firms To Curb Hate Speech
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By Shirley Siluk. Updated December 5, 2016 9:59AM

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The European Union (EU) is warning technology firms, including Facebook and Twitter, that they'll have to do better at curbing online hate speech. Otherwise, they could face stricter regulations forcing them to do so.

The Financial Times reported yesterday that an EU study has found that tech companies aren't meeting the voluntary compliance standards they agreed to with the EU earlier this year.

"If Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Microsoft want to convince me and the ministers that the non-legislative approach can work, they will have to act quickly and make a strong effort in the coming months," EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova, who commissioned the study, told the publication.

While the voluntary standards unveiled in May require companies to "review the majority of valid notifications for removal of illegal hate speech in less than 24 hours," the EU study found that only 40 percent of cases are reviewed within that time frame.

Voluntary Standards Aimed at Intolerance

In May, the European Commission, the EU's executive body, announced that it had drafted a set of voluntary commitments on hate speech in cooperation with Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube. The standards were developed in the wake of the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.

"Social media is unfortunately one of the tools that terrorist groups use to radicalize young people and racist (sic) use to spread violence and hatred," Jourova said in a statement released on May 31. "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."

Under the code of conduct developed with the EU, tech companies agreed to have dedicated teams in place to review most removal notifications for hate speech in less than 24 hours. The commitments also called for the companies and the European Commission to meet regularly and submit a report to the high-level EU group on combating racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance by the end of this year.

'Much Stronger Efforts' Needed

The EU's new report on compliance with those voluntary standards found that tech firms reviewed only 40 percent of notifications in under a day, Reuters reported.

"After 48 hours the figure is more than 80 percent," an official with the European Commission told Reuters. "This shows that the target can realistically be achieved, but this will need much stronger efforts by the IT companies."

Compliance with the hate speech standards also varied widely across countries in the European Union, the report found. For example, more than half of racist comments online were removed in Germany and France, while removal rates in Austria and Italy were 11 percent and 4 percent, respectively.

EU officials are expected to meet Thursday to discuss the latest report as well as how technology companies should respond in light of its findings.

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