Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, and YouTube today agreed to European regulations that require them to review “the majority of” hateful online content within 24 hours of being notified â€” and to remove it, if necessary â€” as part of a new “code of conduct” aimed at combating hate speech and terrorist propaganda across the EU. The new rules,Â announced Tuesday by the European Commission, also oblige the tech companies to identify and promote “independent counter-narratives” to hate speech and propaganda published online.
Hate speech and propaganda have become aÂ major concern for European governments followingÂ terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris, and amid theÂ ongoing refugee crisis, which has inflamed racial tensions in some countries. Facebook has beenÂ working with the German government to more proactively combat racist or xenophobic content, after facing initial criticism from the country’s justice minister. Facebook, Twitter, and Google also previouslyÂ agreed to remove hate speech from their platforms within 24 hours in Germany.
An “urgent need”
The EU hasÂ pushing for web companies to combat terrorist propaganda, as well, with someÂ developing their own material to counter efforts from groups like ISIS. The code of conduct announced today marks the first effort to unify policy on online hate speech across the EU.
“The recent terror attacks have reminded us of the urgent need to address illegal online hate speech,” VÄ•ra JourovÃ¡, the EU commissioner for justice, consumers, and gender equality, said in a statement Tuesday. “Social media is unfortunately one of the tools that terrorist groups use to radicalize young people and to spread violence and hatred.”
Europe’s crackdown on hate speech has put tech companies in a difficult situation, as governments push them to assume more responsibility in policing illegal content. In statements on the code of conduct, all four tech companies said they remain committed to cracking down on illegal hate speech while still allowing for the free flow of information across their platforms.
â€œWeâ€™re committed to giving people access to information through our services, but we have always prohibited illegal hate speech on our platforms,” Lie Junius, Google’s head of public policy and government relations, said in a statement. “We have efficient systems to review valid notifications in less than 24 hours and to remove illegal content. We are pleased to work with the Commission to develop co- and self-regulatory approaches to fighting hate speech online.”