A number of left, liberal-leaning groups rode to the defence of free speech this morning after it was announced that the European Commission in partnership with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft, would be heavily policing the internet for “hate speech” and criminalising those it accused of falling foul of their regulations.
Speaking to Breitbart London, the Index on Censorship, the National Secular Society, the Open Rights Group, and the U.S.-based ‘Free Press’ organisation all railed against the new European Union (EU) and social media giant plans to police the web for content they deem to be offensive.
A press release from the Commission this morning claims the new initiative has been set up “to respond to the challenge of ensuring that online platforms do not offer opportunities for illegal online hate speech to spread virally”.
But the move has been blasted as authoritarian, Orwellian, and wrong-headed – even by left-leaning and liberal groups.
Jodie Ginsburg, the CEO of Index on Censorship told Breitbart London:
“Hate speech laws are already too broad and ambiguous in much of Europe. This agreement fails to properly define what “illegal hate speech” is and does not provide sufficient safeguards for freedom of expression.”
“It devolves power once again to unelected corporations to determine what amounts to hate speech and police it – a move that is guaranteed to stifle free speech in the mistaken belief this will make us all safer. It won’t. It will simply drive unpalatable ideas and opinions underground where they are harder to police – or to challenge.”
“There have been precedents of content removal for unpopular or offensive viewpoints and this agreement risks amplifying the phenomenon of deleting controversial – yet legal – content via misuse or abuse of the notification processes.”
Executive Director of the National Secular Society Keith Porteous Wood told Breitbart London in response to the announcement:
“We fear that the proscription of public incitement of hatred directed against a group of persons, unless defined much more clearly and qualified by freedom of expression safeguards, will create a chilling effect on freedom of expression and will be misused to muzzle it. Social media platforms around the world are frequently accused of censoring critics of Islamism.”
While Timothy Karr, Senior Director of Strategy for the Free Press and Free Press Action Fund based in the United States said:
“One of the problems with protecting free speech is that you often find yourself standing in defense of ideas you find disgusting, and people who lack the sort of decency we expect in a civilized society.
“State censorship is never the right response to so-called hate speech, even at a time when it’s spreading via digital platforms used by billions of people. These private intermediaries claim to have their own standards for preventing harmful discourse from their subscribers, but those processes are often opaque and arbitrary.
“The ugliness we’re seeing on digital platforms is a byproduct of deeper problems, often having to do with systemic racism that’s been festering for decades, centuries even. I suspect the best answer to the proliferation of hateful and harmful language — often targeted at someone because of their race, ethnicity or gender — is to uproot the hatred at its source.
“That’s no small task but at least we’re identifying the true cause of this problem and not merely attempting to muzzle the messengers.”
Finally, Jim Killock, the Executive Director of the Open Rights Group told Breitbart London:
“The removal of illegal hate speech should be led by law enforcement agencies not commercial companies. There needs to be a clear judicial process for making requests to remove content as well as transparency about the reasons for removal. It is one thing if companies decide to remove content that breaches their community standards but another if the order to do this comes from the state.”
The fact that opposition to the plans are coming from both left and right is sure to be of concern to Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, and YouTube. But not least to the European Commission which relies of left-wing support for its continued existence, expansion, and follow through in its agenda.