EU Commission piles pressure onto US tech giants Facebook, Twitter, Google's YouTube and Microsoft to improve responses to hate speech

Francesca Washtell
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Facebook is one of the four companies that signed up to a voluntary code in May (Source: Getty)

The EU Commission has warned US tech firms Facebook, YouTube, Microsoft and Twitter they need to act faster to tackle online hate speech or will face laws forcing them to do so.

The warning yesterday came six months after the four technology giants signed up to a voluntary code of conduct to take action in Europe within 24 hours after a notification of hate speech is received.

This included removing or disabling access to the content if necessary, more cooperation with civil society groups and the promotion of “counter-narratives” to hate speech, following rising concerns triggered by terror attacks and the refugee crisis.

Read more: Facebook helping Germany with anti-refugee hate speech

Although the code is mostly an extension of existing efforts by the companies to tackle hate speech, a report commissioned by the EU’s justice commissioner, Vera Jourova, showed that compliance with the code is far from satisfactory, the commission said.

“In practice the companies take longer and do not yet achieve this goal. They only reviewed 40 percent of the recorded cases in less than 24 hours,” a commission official said.

“After 48 hours the figure is more than 80 percent. This shows that the target can realistically be achieved, but this will need much stronger efforts by the IT companies.”

Read more: France wants to sanction Facebook and Twitter over hate speech

The commission added that it may enact laws to force swifter action.

“If Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Microsoft want to convince me and the ministers that the non-legislative approach can work, they will have to act quickly and make a strong effort in the coming months,” Jourova told the Financial Times.

The report showed the removal rate of racist posts was uneven across the 28-country bloc. In Germany and France, the removal rate was above 50 per cent, but fell to 11 per cent in Austria and four per cent in Italy.

EU justice ministers will meet in Brussels to discuss the report on Thursday and are expected to ask the four firms to clarify issues such as taking down “terrorist propaganda”.

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