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Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Microsoft agree to curb hate speech in Europe

By Allen Cone
Facebook, along with Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft, signed a code of conduct formulated by the European Union to curb hate speech. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Facebook, along with Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft, signed a code of conduct formulated by the European Union to curb hate speech. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

BRUSSELS, May 31 (UPI) -- Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft agreed Tuesday to help fight the spread of hate speech in Europe.

The United States-based Internet and social media giants signed a code of conduct formulated by the European Union.

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The companies vowed to remove illegal hate speech within 24 hours and block access when claims are substantiated.

In a joint statement with the EU, the companies say they support the "effort to respond to the challenge of ensuring that online platforms do not offer opportunities for illegal online hate speech to spread virally" and that they "share, together with other platforms and social media companies, a collective responsibility and pride in promoting and facilitating freedom of expression throughout the online world."

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The companies say they will educate and increase awareness about banned content and will work with one another on best practices. They agreed to develop terms of service and community guidelines that clearly prohibit hateful conduct and incite violence.

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Facebook and Twitter already have anti-hate-speech policies.

U.S. laws traditionally support stronger free speech protections than in Europe.

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met on May 18 with conservative leaders about concerns that the social network is curbing right-of-center content on its "Trending Topics" feature.

The code of conduct is based on 2008 EU legislation. It describes illegal hate speech as "all conduct publicly inciting to violence or hatred directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, color, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin."

EU officials sought to develop an agreement with the online companies after the Brussels terror attacks.

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The online companies issued specific statements.

From Facebook's Monika Bickert, head of global policy management: "With a global community of 1.6 billion people, we work hard to balance giving people the power to express themselves whilst ensuring we provide a respectful environment. As we make clear in our community standards, there's no place for hate speech on Facebook. We urge people to use our reporting tools if they find content that they believe violates our standards so we can investigate."

From Twitter's Karen White, head of public policy for Europe: "Hateful conduct has no place on Twitter, and we will continue to tackle this issue head on alongside our partners in industry and civil society. We remain committed to letting the tweets flow. However, there is a clear distinction between freedom of expression and conduct that incites violence and hate."

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And Google's Lie Junius, EU public policy and government relations director: "We are pleased to work with the commission to develop co- and self-regulatory approaches to fighting hate speech online."

European Digital Rights and Access Now -- the two most prominent lobbyists for online rights in Europe -- said civil society groups were not involved in the negotiations.

"The 'code of conduct' downgrades the law to a second-class status, behind the 'leading role' of private companies that are being asked to arbitrarily implement their terms of service," the groups said in a statement. "This process, established outside an accountable democratic framework, exploits unclear liability rules for companies. It also creates serious risks for freedom of expression as legal but controversial content may well be deleted as a result of this voluntary and unaccountable take down mechanism."

They said the agreement will "overturn case law of the European Court of Human Rights on the defense of legal speech."

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