Top executives from the UK arms of Facebook, Twitter, and Google appeared in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday and were grilled about an apparent failure to tackle ‘hate speech’ on their platforms.
The committee directed most of their intense scrutiny towards Google in regards to videos posted on YouTube that are “peddling hate,” according to Labour MP Chuka Umunna. Focusing on videos uploaded by the ex-KKK leader David Duke and the now proscribed extremist organization National Action, Umunna accused Peter Barron, the vice president of communications and public affairs at Google Europe of profiting off of these videos, along with allowing the individuals themselves to make money as well.
“Your operating profit in 2016 was $30.4 billion. Now, there are not many business activities that somebody openly would have to come and admit… that they are making money and people who use their platform are making money out of hate,” Umunna said. “You, as an outfit, are not working nearly hard enough to deal with this.”
Barron responded by arguing that the profits they made from these videos were “very small amounts,” also saying that they would crack down on them. Fellow Labour MP David Winnick scoffed at the response. “The thought that came into my mind was the thought of commercial prostitution that you are engaging,” he told Barron.
Yvette Cooper, the chair of the committee and a previous candidate for the leader of the Labour Party, also laid into Barron:
You allow David Duke to upload an entire video which is all about malicious and hateful comments about Jewish people. How on earth is that not a breach of your own guidelines? I think most people would be appalled by that video and think it goes against all standards of public decency in this country.
Tending towards a more pro-free speech line, Barron said that while the statements were “anti-Semitic, deeply offensive and shocking”, he insisted that they didn’t “meet the test for removing under our guidelines. We are in favor of free speech and access to information.”
Facebook and Twitter did not get off lightly either. Simon Milner from Facebook was criticized for their response to a BBC investigation into child pornography on the platform. Instead of handing those who had posted the offending imagery to the police, Facebook reported the BBC to them instead, accusing them of illegal distribution of “child exploitation” images. Milner admitted to the panel that it showed that the system was “not working,” and the investigation had exposed a flaw in its moderation process, although the images had since been removed.
Nick Pickles, head of public policy and government for Twitter in the UK, was questioned by Cooper over a series of “racist, vile and violent attacks” against Sadiq Khan and Angela Merkel that had not been removed from their site. Pickles claimed that he knew that Twitter was “not doing a good enough job” at responding to user reports. “I am sorry to hear those reports had not been looked at,” he said. “We would have expected them to have been looked at certainly by the end of today, particularly for violent threats.”
Cooper said that none of the responses from the panel were “particularly convincing,” and that they must do “a better job in order to… keep your users safe online and deal with this type of hate speech.”