Defend Freedom of Speech: Say No to the European Commission and Facebook Pledge to Censor Online Discussion
The European Commission (the executive branch of the EU) reached an agreement on the 31st May with some of the world’s biggest social media firms including Facebook, Twitter and Youtube on how to tackle “illegal online hate speech”.
The European Commission unveiled a code of conduct that will ensure “online platforms do not offer opportunities for illegal online hate speech to spread virally”. Upon receiving a ‘valid removal notification’, IT companies will have to remove or disable access to the content in less than 24 hours.
The Commission and the IT companies came to this decision without public consultation and without consultation with democratically elected leaders.
So what does tackling “illegal online hate speech” involve? According to EU law, illegal hate speech means all conduct “publicly inciting to violence or hatred directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin.”
This is so vague as to mean almost anything. Take two examples:
1. a European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights document defined hate speech to include a “broader spectrum of verbal acts”, including “disrespectful public discourse”.
2. The IGLYO (the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex Youth and Student Organisation) produced an EU-funded manual on online hate speech in which we are told “the vast majority of hate speech is being perpetrated by regular people, not by extremists or radicals”.
Ostensibly this “Code of Conduct” exists to tackle terrorism, as mentioned in the press release, but it is clear that will go far beyond this. Věra Jourová, EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality and the person responsible for this code, has confirmed this elsewhere. In 2015 she said that “‘a narrative undermining LGBTI rights is quietly spreading, often disguised as so-called religious principles. This is unacceptable… It is clear that we must fight all hate speech, online and offline, whatever group of society it targets. We will work with internet providers to ensure hate speech is taken off the web as soon as it is reported.’
“so-called religious principles” and terrorism are, in the author of this code’s opinion, both forms of hate speech which need to be censored on the internet.
Certain corners of the press are already arguing that “hate speech” should cover gender and sexual orientation. And we have no reason to believe that they will stop there.
The upshot of all this is that if you hold conservative or minority political or social views, about say, immigration, same-sex marriage, transgenderism, you could be guilty of “hate speech” and find yourself censored online.
No Governmental institution, let alone one which is largely unaccountable to the people it governs, should have this kind of power. Sign this petition to Věra Jourová, EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality asking her and the commission to adopt a different strategy to deal with Islamic extremism, one which does not so radically undermine our freedom of speech.