Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft have made commitments regarding a "Code of Conduct" released by the European Commission and EU member states in an effort to curb online hate speech.
"The recent terror attacks have reminded us of the urgent need to address illegal online hate speech," Vĕra Jourová, EU commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, said in a May 31 statement.
"Social media is unfortunately one of the tools that terrorist groups use to radicalize young people and racist use to spread violence and hatred," Jourová continued. "This agreement is an important step forward to ensure that the Internet remains a place of free and democratic expression, where European values and laws are respected."
The technology companies have agreed to take a number of steps, including establishing clear processes for reviewing notifications regarding hate speech; stating clearly that they prohibit "the promotion of incitement to violence and hateful conduct"; and reviewing the majority of valid notifications in less than 24 hours and removing or disabling such content.
"There is a clear distinction between freedom of expression and conduct that incites violence and hate," Karen White, Twitter's head of public policy for Europe, said in the statement. "In tandem with actioning hateful conduct that breaches Twitter's Rules, we also leverage the platform's incredible capabilities to empower positive voices, to challenge prejudice and to tackle the deeper root causes of intolerance."
Google's director of public policy, Lie Junius, said Google has always prohibited hate speech and has efficient systems in place for reviewing valid notification in less than 24 hours. Junius added, "We are pleased to work with the Commission to develop co- and self-regulatory approaches to fighting hate speech online."
Monika Bickert, Facebook's head of global policy management, also welcomed the announcement, while nodding to the enormity of the challenge.
"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," Bickert said. "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."
A 2008 Framework Decision on combating racism and xenophobia provided the legal basis for defining illegal content online.
The day the Code of Conduct was announced, French President Francois Hollande said the French government next month will draft a law that further puts pressure on Google, Facebook and other major Internet influencers by making them "accomplices" of hate speech if they host extremist messages, Bloomberg reported May 31.
Speaking at a Paris memorial for Jewish people deported during World War II, Hollande said the big operators of the Internet "can no longer close their eyes" to what they host.
"We must act at the European and international level to define a legal framework so that Internet platforms which manage social media be considered responsible, and that sanctions can be taken," he added, according the report.
While the European Commission document outlines appropriate conduct by the involved parties, it doesn't discuss penalties or sanctions.