EU gives Facebook, Twitter final warning on hate speech

Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms have been given an ultimatum by the European Union – to rid platforms of hate speech or face legal consequences

'The situation is not sustainable: in more than 28% of cases, it takes more than one week for online platforms to take down illegal content', said EU's top official
'The situation is not sustainable: in more than 28% of cases, it takes more than one week for online platforms to take down illegal content', said EU's top official

European regulators have been applying pressure on social media companies, to remove racist and violent posts from their platforms in a timely manner for many years.

Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, and Google have all pledged to do more. In May 2016, they pledged to review a majority of hate speech flagged by users within 24 hours and to remove any illegal content.

However, according to EU’s top regulator, the European Commission, they are still failing to act fast enough, they said on Thursday. It went on to say that it would pass laws allowing the EU to impose penalties on companies that fail to act.

"The situation is not sustainable: in more than 28% of cases, it takes more than one week for online platforms to take down illegal content," said Mariya Gabriel, the EU's top official in charge of the digital economy and society.

The Commission said it will consider implementing new laws to tackle the problem if the online platforms fail to "take swift action over the coming months."

It also said it requires the companies to invest more in terms of detecting hate speech, and work with trusted reviewers, trained to know what constitutes hate speech.

It also wants companies to do a better job of preventing illegal content from re-appearing.

The penalties could be severe. The EU has a reputation for hitting companies that don't play by its rules hard. Known for its somewhat harsh penalties, earlier this year, Google was ordered to pay $2.8 billion in an anti-trust fine. On Wednesday, it announced a $1 billion penalty for truck manufacturer Scania for participating in a cartel.

Some European countries seem to be taking the law into their own hands, however and are already pushing through strict laws, punishing social media companies for being too lax, where illegal hate speech is concerned.

The German government approved a plan in April, to start imposing fines of as much as €50 million on Facebook, Twitter and others, if they fail to remove hate speech and fake news posts within 24 hours after they are flagged. Other illegal content needs to be deleted within 7 days of reporting.

In the U.K., a parliamentary committee has accused social media platforms of prioritising profit over user safety, by continuing to host unlawful content. The committee also called for “meaningful fines” if companies do not improve fast.

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