EU Introduces New Law Forcing Tech Firms to Censor Unwanted Speech in 24 Hours

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Reuters

The unelected European Commission is planning new laws and fines targeting Internet firms like Google, Twitter, and Facebook if they do not censor content they consider illegal within 24 hours.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in a speech Wednesday the new rules are for counter-terror and security reasons, although the Commission has repeatedly threatened legislation in the past if “hate speech” is not removed within 24 hours.

The draft proposal insists new laws are needed “to ensure the engagement of all internet platforms and national authorities to protect Europeans online and deny terrorists the ability to spread their propaganda online”.

Germany introduced similar legislation earlier this year, threatening Facebook and other firms with fines of up to 50 million euros (£45 million) if they did not delete “hate speech” as well as extremist content within 24 hours.

It has been widely seen as a failure, creating a “chilling effect” on free speech as people self-censor and tech firms are overly cautious with what they delete in order to avoid fines.

The first person to fall victim of the policy was the right-wing populist AfD leader Beatrix von Storch, who had her Twitter account suspended after posting about the Cologne mass sex attacks, committed by mostly migrants.

A joke from a liberal comedian about the AfD and a series of tweets from the satirical magazine Titanic, parodying von Storch’s remarks, was also deleted and censored thanks to the laws.

The EU proposal, however, insists that free speech will be protected. “To mitigate errors, platform providers will need to have a robust and efficient complaints procedure,” the Commission says.

Adding: “Member States will preserve European values of free speech with judicial remedies.”

The proposals will now need to be approved by EU lawmakers in the European Parliament and member states before becoming law.

The EU has previously issued the tech firms non-legally enforceable ultimatums demanding they delete “illegal online content” including “hate speech” and “xenophobic or racist” speech quickly, threatening legislation if action was not taken.

Back in May 2016, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Microsoft committed to combatting the spread of “illegal online hate speech” in Europe by signing up to an EU “Code of Conduct”.

In that code, the tech firms also promised to help the EU “criminalise” perpetrators as well as re-educate them by “promoting independent counter-narratives” that Brussels favours.

Thanks to the code, the Commission claimed in March that the “internet companies now remove on average 70 [percent] of illegal hate speech notified to them and in more than 80 [percent] of these cases, the removals took place within 24 hours”.

The European Digital Rights group, which defends online freedom, has previously argued that the rules on deleting “hate speech” effectively “put internet giants in charge of censoring Europe”.

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