Towards the curbing of online hate speech

Published: 13 June 2017

Approximately one year ago, the Big 4 online firms (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft) decided to take a stand against online hate speech by developing standardized terms of use. A clearer picture of the positive outcomes of their negotiations is now available from reports published by the firms a few days ago.


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Online hate speech has been a key issue ever since the dawn of the Internet, where it can spread much more widely thanks to the nature of this technology. The Internet has become the primary scene for hate speech, whereas the civil and criminal law solutions have not changed radically. In consequence, the major internet firms have found themselves tasked with the screening of increasingly widespread objectionable content. Given the lack of clarity in the current situation, providers such as Facebook and YouTube could become markets of extremes without such interventions.

At this new stage in the fight against xenophobia, racism and discrimination, they can now respond to any reporting of featured content within 24 hours. This practice includes making content unavailable and admitting ‘opposing viewpoints’, which may be represented by non-governmental organizations as well. According to a report by the European Commission, Facebook can now delete approximately 58% of reported content within 24 hours, 8% more than in December. Twitter improved its content resolution results to 39% from 23.5% in December last year.

This shows that the national and European Union pressure on social media predicts a significant increase in content blocking, due in part to the legal steps taken against the companies for making offensive content available. This increased international attention is also underscored by a plan adopted by EU ministers in April, which calls for increased pressure on social media service providers to encourage blocking videos and content constituting hate speech.

Constraints on hate speech are welcome as long as they do not limit the freedom of speech of European citizens and permit the expression of opposing viewpoints. In the age of the Internet, it is increasingly difficult to decide where the boundaries to this lie; after all, automated filtering software may end up limiting content that does not constitute hate speech in the legal sense.

It remains a question therefore whether the pressure on social media could result in a unilateral shift in opinions and a distortion of the freedom of speech.