19th Mar 2018

EU states back bill against online hate speech

  • Social media giants are being asked to tackle online hate speech (Photo: Kyra Preston)

EU ministers on Tuesday (23 May) backed a bill that seeks to curb hate speech on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google's YouTube.

The move follows wider concerns over online radicalisation and the incitement to commit terrorist acts.

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It also comes on the heels of a suicide terror attack in the UK that ended the lives of 22 people and injured 59 others following a concert in Manchester.

The EU bill still needs the support of the European Parliament before it becomes law.

But if passed, the tech giants will need to remove offensive content, posing broader concerns over free speech. Digital rights defenders have in the past argued that the fight against radical online content often leads to censorship.

It also poses questions on social media giants' abilities to remove offending content. Facebook and others already said in 2015 they would examine and remove any hateful comments spreading online within 24 hours of their detection.

But internal guidelines by Facebook, published by the Guardian newspaper, have described efforts to remove all terrorist content among its 2 billion users as “mission impossible”.

The Guardian report also follows a recently proposed bill in Germany that now threatens Facebook and Twitter with up to €50 million in fines if they do not remove hateful content or fake news within 24 hours.

The bill backed by the EU ministers is part of the EU's audiovisual media services directive, which also lays out separate rules for video on-demand providers such as Netflix in terms of ensuring that at least 30 percent of the content is European.

EU digital commissioner Andrus Ansip in a statement said a common set of audiovisual rules were needed across the EU.

"We need to take into account new ways of watching videos, and find the right balance to encourage innovative services, promote European films, protect children and tackle hate speech in a better way," he said.

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