The Hierarchy of Hate: Mixed Signals in the Combat against Hate Speech

In May 2016, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft signed the ‘Code of conduct on countering illegal hate speech online’ with the European Commission. Since then, there has been a series of three monitoring cycles, during which public authorities and non-governmental organisations as cooperation partners of the Commission checked, over a period of several weeks, whether the companies are doing what they agreed to do. One of their central obligations is that they 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. What is deemed illegal is defined by the Framework on Racism and Xenophobia, a document discussed further down. The last monitoring cycle took place between November 6th and December 15th 2017 in twenty-seven Member States (except Luxembourg). The results were comparatively favourable (overall) in comparison with the previous monitoring cycles. On average, IT companies removed 70% of the prohibited content, compared with a removal rate of 59% in the second monitoring cycle and 28% in the first.

On the face of it, this is good news. The European Commission is creating synergies with a variety of entities to crack down on hate speech, the removal rate of ‘illegal hate speech’ is rising and, thus, our pursuit (as a democratic society) of ‘cleaning up’ threats to pluralism, acceptance and solidarity is increasingly becoming efficient. However, it is not as simple as that. The Code of Conduct, as an initiative of the European Commission, impacts hate speech on social platforms in the European Union only ...

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