The unelected executive arm of the European Union (EU) is threatening to escalate from “non-legislative” action if Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube do not censor what it considers “illegal” online speech within 24 hours.
In May of this year, the U.S. tech giants signed a “code of conduct”, promising to work with the Commission and national law enforcement to “criminalize” and “sanction” “individual perpetrators” as well as committing to “promoting independent counter-narratives” that the EU favours.
Speaking on Sunday, the EU’s justice commissioner added “fake news” to the list of what they want censored online.
The “series of commitments to combat the spread of illegal hate speech online in Europe” developed “together with… the IT companies” included a promise to “review the majority” of flagged “hate speech” within 24 hours.
However, a new European Commission report has claimed this has only been happening in Germany and France so far, and censorship often takes too long. Consequently, one commissioner implied they could pass new censorship laws if the “non-legislative approach” fails.
The review found that 40 per cent of recorded cases were reviewed within 24 hours, but the figure rose above 80 per cent after 48 hours. Twitter was slowest to respond while YouTube was fastest.
EU Justice Commissioner Věra Jourová told The Financial Times (FT): “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.”
She added: “The last weeks and months have shown that social media companies need to live up to their important role and take up their share of responsibility when it comes to phenomena like online radicalisation, illegal hate speech or fake news.”
According to the FT, the report found removal rates were in excess of 50 per cent in Germany and France but as low as 4 per cent in Italy and 11 per cent in Austria.
Of the 600 cases notified, 316 were deemed to require a response from companies. Ms. Jourová’s report said 163 items were deleted and 153 were not removed because the companies concluded there was no breach of legislation or community rules.
Civil rights and free speech activists have harshly criticised the “code of conduct” for its worryingly loose and broad definition of “hate speech”.
UKIP’s former Justice and Home Affairs spokeswoman and (briefly) leader Diane James MEP told Breitbart London in May:
“This legislation is so vague that it is the thin end of the wedge not just to curb hate speech but free speech as well.
“Different people and cultures across Europe have different ways of communicating. The Liberal tradition in Britain for instance is more open and very different from that of dictatorial former Communist countries in the East.”
She added: “In my opinion, if the EU still allows to me have an opinion, I believe this matter should be decided by national parliaments rather than the unelected European Commission.“