In a move denounced by some as “Orwellian,” Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and Microsoft have all pledged to review and remove illegal hate speech from their platforms within 24 hours of receiving notification.
This initiative signifies the beginning of a partnership between major tech giants and the European Commission, which is encouraging the tech companies to “combat all forms of intolerance” by cracking down on what the Commission considers to be hate speech. The agreement also advises tech companies to promote and encourage “counter and alternatives narratives” that are presumably favored by the European Commission.
As private corporations, technology companies certainly have the right to issue guidelines for the use of their platforms and censor speech that does not conform to their guidelines. What is concerning, however, is the collusion between private companies and a governmental body.
Though officials from the European Commission and the tech companies involved insist that the purpose of the partnership is to restrict the ability of terrorists to disseminate their message through social media, many fear that speech deemed politically incorrect may also be censored.
In a statement, Janice Atkinson, an independent Member of European Parliament who represents Southeast England, called the partnership between the tech companies and the European Commission “Orwellian,” adding that, “anyone who has read 1984 sees it’s [sic] very re-enactment live.”
European Digital Rights, an international human rights advocacy organization headquartered in Brussels, also issued a statement against the partnership and decided to withdraw from further conversations with the European Commission.
The agreement, which directs tech companies to remove illegal hate speech online in Europe, fails to appreciate that the internet is global in nature. Posts, comments, and videos originating from the United States are accessible in Europe, and vice versa. It remains to be seen whether tech companies will differentiate between speech originating in Europe, where various forms of “hate speech” is illegal, and speech from elsewhere, where that same speech is not illegal.
Unlike much of Europe, the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, even protecting hate speech so long as it does not contain actual threats of illegal conduct. In R.A.V. v. St. Paul (1992), the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that ordinances which prohibit certain types of unfavorable and distasteful speech about race, creed, or gender are unconstitutional.
Facebook found itself in the midst of controversy earlier this month when former employees alleged that the social media juggernaut was removing news stories published by conservative organizations from its “trending” news section. In 2013, the company received criticism for blocking the personal page of Fox News contributor Todd Starnes after he posted a status in which he mentioned Paula Deen, Cracker Barrel, Chick-fil-A, and the Bible. Other examples of Facebook’s perceived discrimination against conservatives can be found here.
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Blaine Conzatti is a columnist and 2016 Research Fellow at the Family Policy Institute of Washington. He can be reached at Blaine@FPIW.org.