Top Internet Companies Agree To Vague Notice & Takedown Rules For 'Hate Speech' In The EU

from the who-defines-what-hate-speech-is dept

It’s easy to say that “hate speech” is bad and that we, as a society, shouldn’t tolerate it. But, reality is a lot more complicated than that, which is why we’re concerned about various attempts to ban or stifle “hate speech.” In the US, contrary to what many believe to be true, “hate” speech is still protected speech under the First Amendment. In Europe, that’s often not the case, and hate speech bans are more common. But, as we’ve noted, while it seems like a no brainer to be against hate speech, the vagueness in what counts as “hate speech” allows that term to be expanded over and over again, such that laws against hate speech are now regularly used for government censorship over the public saying things the government doesn’t like.

So consider me quite concerned about the news out of the EU that the EU Commission has convinced all the big internet platform companies — Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft — to agree to remove “hate speech” within 24 hours.

Upon receipt of a valid removal notification, the IT Companies to review such requests against their rules and community guidelines and where necessary national laws transposing the Framework Decision 2008/913/JHA, with dedicated teams reviewing requests.

The IT Companies to review the majority of valid notifications for removal of illegal hate speech in less than 24 hours and remove or disable access to such content, if necessary.

In addition to the above, the IT Companies to educate and raise awareness with their users about the types of content not permitted under their rules and community guidelines. The use of the notification system could be used as a tool to do this.

In other words, it sounds a lot like these companies have agreed to a DMCA-like notice-and-takedown regime for handling “hate speech.” Let’s be clear here: this will be abused and it will be abused widely. That’s what happens when you give individuals the ability to remove content from platforms. Obviously, these companies are private companies and can set whatever policies they want on keeping up or removing content, but when they come to an agreement with the EU Commission about what they’ll remove and how quickly, reasonable concerns should be raised about how this will work in practice, what definitions will be used to determine “hate speech,” what kinds of appeals processes there will be and more. And none of that is particularly clear.

And, of course, very few people will raise these issues upfront because no one wants to be seen as being in favor of hate speech. And that’s the real problem. It’s easy to create rules for censorship by saying it’s just about “hate speech,” since almost no one will stand up and complain about that. But that opens up the door to all sorts of abuse — whether in how “hate speech” is defined, as well as in how the companies will actually handle the implementation. Two major human rights groups — EDRi and Access Now have already withdrawn from the EU Commission forum discussing all of this in protest of how these rules were put together:

Today, on 31 May, European Digital Rights (EDRi) and Access Now delivered a joint statement on the EU Commission?s ?EU Internet Forum?, announcing our decision not to take part in future discussions and confirming that we do not have confidence in the ill considered ?code of conduct? that was agreed.

Their main concern was that the whole thing was set up directly between the EU Commission and the internet companies behind closed doors — and when you’re talking about issues that impact human rights and freedom of expression, that needs to be done openly and transparently.

In short, 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. 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.

I recognize why many people may cheer on this move, thinking that it’s a way to stop “bad stuff” from happening online, but beware the actual consequences of setting up an opaque process with a vague standard for pressuring platforms to censor content based on notices from angry people. If you don’t think this will be abused in dangerous ways, you haven’t been paying attention to the last two decades on the internet.

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Companies: facebook, google, microsoft, twitter, youtube

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Comments on “Top Internet Companies Agree To Vague Notice & Takedown Rules For 'Hate Speech' In The EU”

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54 Comments
John85851 (profile) says:

Criticizing police could be hate speech

Did you see that Louisiana passed a law saying police officers will now be a protected class and will be covered under hate crimes?
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2016/05/26/louisianas-blue-lives-matter-bill-just-became-law/

So how long will it be until criticizing police becomes labeled hate speech and removed?
Granted, Louisiana is in the US and we’re talking about EU law, but still.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Criticizing police could be hate speech

Well of course, I mean it’s not like they already enjoy significant legal benefits above and beyond what members of the public enjoy. If anything they are at a disadvantage under the eyes of the law, and clearly they need the extra protection to bring them at least to the level of legal protection that members of the public are covered by, for the sake of legal equality.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Do you really think that the bureaucrats and politicians do not see the possibility for abuse, and how they can use it to further their own agendas? They say whatever will keep them in power, including claiming to support freedom and tolerance, while working as hard as they can to impose their own authoritarian views on everybody else.

Anonymous Coward says:

The main danger in outlawing hate speech is...

The main danger in outlawing hate speech is any speech the ruling class doesn’t like can be deemed hate speech and political opponents punished for it. Any speech outside the societal norms could be deemed hate speech and banned as well. So people will be afraid to speak out and question the status quo thus slowing down good change, maybe even more so than stifling bad change.

Anonymous Coward says:

Google circa 1999 is rolling in its grave over Google circa 2016. I understand economic incentives must’ve been involved behind the scenes, but this is still a framework of censorship that will likely only serve to make terrorism worse. Ostracize new groups of people whose every political stance is arbitrarily accused of being hate speech. The only thing this will end up accomplishing productively is reducing the likelihood of a mass panic based on arbitrarily-labeled hate speech. A niche scenario and most definitely not one that justifies mass censorship.

Anonymous Coward says:

Remember folks...

All “Hate Speech” is just speech you don’t agree with.

If you are okay with your country doing this, then I hope you burn because you are literally asking to be burned! And who would deny such a request? We all know the government won’t… in fact no request necessary, they will burn you just because thy need a good laugh from time to time.

Enjoy your tyranny… it’s going to be real ride!

Anonymous Coward says:

This is troubling. The EU could use this as the basis for removing hate groups from any website, social media, email service or even removing hate group websites. Every time a new law or tool for removing content online, individuals, companies, corporations and government abuses it in such a manner, testing those same laws to see what they can get away with.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Some people cannot apply the same logic with roles reversed.

“Kim Davis regards criticism of her views as hate speech, but is completely blind to how her religious views of gays might be similarly perceived.”

In her case, it was more her actions than her speech that brought that criticism. Nobody would have minded so much if the hateful bigot had either done her job or allowed someone else to do it for her. It was the refusal to grant a federally approved status to a group she hated that was the sticking point.

But, I generally agree with what you’re saying.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

No doubt this is going to be used to censor all the posts about the bang up job the EU’s is doing on immigration, and well, any other policy they screw up royally. The two things they are doing, setting themselves up for a Streisand effect that approaches that of a mega tsunami levels, and hiding the resentment that is leading to the rise of the right, will come back to bite them in the end.

I say good on them, let them hide their heads in the sand, cover their ears, yell I can’t hear you, and force all the hate speech underground where they can never monitor it.

This reminds me of something … oh yeah, now I remember … it’s kind of like attention seeking attorney generals and police departments forcing Craig’s list to de-list prostitution, and now that we have zero prostitution in the United States, I feel so much safer. /sarc

Anonymous Coward says:

You could start to write in code. If they can’t prove it’s hate speech will they remove it anyway?
Example: “Broccoli ice cream” could mean “This sucks hard”. Could use a simple userscript or extension to automatically encode and decode (if you have the key).

Guess it’s time to update my bot to send lots of complaints that politicians are actively using hate speech on their social media. Mark randomly or everything as hate speech. Lets see how they like it to be censored.

The people responsible, I want to see them burn alive. That’s how pissed off I am. Could see myself smile while they scream in agony from the flames.
Would infecting them with a deadly virus be more painful? We could use them to find out.

That One Guy (profile) says:

'It is legal to be critical of the following, and ONLY the following groups/beliefs:'

1 – “They’re nothing but ignorant hicks.”

2 – “Just a pack of bigoted assholes.”

3 – “They’re revolting, absolutely disgusting.”

4 – “Their ideas are reprehensible, and will lead only to suffering.”

5 – “They’re nothing but a cult, and a dangerous one at that.”

Which of the above are ‘hate speech’, and which are statements of opinion? Does your opinion change if I told you the above statements were made…

1A – Against someone who prefers to live with as little tech as possible.
1B – Against someone living in a trailer-park.

2A – By the KKK against people intolerant of their stance on race.
2B – Against the KKK for their stance on race.

3A – By a same-sex couple against someone protesting equal rights.
3B – Against a same-sex couple for, well… existing.

4A – By a religious individual against an atheist.
4B – Against a religious individual by an atheist.

5A – By a Scientologist against someone who believes different.
5B – Against a scientologist for what they believe.

One person’s ‘hate speech’ is another person’s ‘statement of opinion’, so the idea that you can trim out ‘hate speech’ without impacting free speech fails from the start. You want to deal with ‘hate speech’, you counter it with more speech and social responses like refusing to have anything to do with someone so long as they hold a belief that you find reprehensible.

Doing it the ‘legal’ way will just end up making criticism of certain groups, claims or topics ‘illegal’; it doesn’t actually do anything to address them, it just brushes them under the rug to fester.

Being Critical says:

Re: 'It is legal to be critical of the following, and ONLY the following groups/beliefs:'

I hate it when the news lady says, ‘the critics are calling that controversial,’ just for an example. Stating something as though anonymously protected ‘critics’ without having to say who their phony fabricated critics are entices me to say something like. ‘shut your asshole you lying bitch.’ I have been getting really steamed latey when I want to get some news and all I hear and see is the squabbling going on with the purely questionable candidates for presidency. I can’t even sigh hard enough to get on with it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Considering that the internet has been around for over two decades, why is the EU just now getting around to addressing online “hate speech”? Why the sudden urgency?

Because the Syrian refugee crisis and related issues, such as the resulting epidemic of sexual assaults perpetrated by the young male immigrants, is undoubtedly the chief driving force behind this measure.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Has anyone considered starting a countdown clock for the first such takedown over slagging off IPR or an organisation? I bash copyright abuse all the time and have already been called an extremist over it. If it happens to me I’ll be sure to let you know.

Bear also in mind that Green Party MPs are being surveilled over here. How long till their tweets, etc., get removed for advocating against fracking? Whether you agree with them or not that ought to be protected speech.

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/apr/28/police-anti-extremism-unit-monitoring-green-party-caroline-lucas-sian-berry

Irene says:

In europe there is already a DMCA-like notice-and-takedown, included in Article 14 pf the e-commerce Directive, and applies horizontally to all types of illegal content. Not only copyright, but also counterfeit, unsafe products, hate speech, defamation, illegal sale of weapons… Key is, that it is illegal following national law. National laws can also divert (what is illegal in Spain might not be illegal in Germany). But hate speech is illegal if covered under the definition of the Framework Directove you mention. Of course the problem is that companies will check it against their ToS, not against the law…

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