Bob Unruh, WND, June 8, 2016
Religious and secular activists both are taking aim at a new plan by the European Union to require tech companies such as Facebook and Twitter to attack “hate” speech online.
And for the same reason: The vague definitions could give people with nefarious agendas the power to censor speech.
WND recently reported the agreement tech giants Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and others reached with the European Union to crack down on what some regard as “hate speech.”
The Associated Press reported the newly approved “code of conduct” will have the tech companies “quickly” remove “illegal hate speech directed against anyone over issues of race, color, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin.”
The companies agreed “to strengthen their partnerships with civil society organizations [that] often flag content that promotes incitement to violence and hateful conduct,” the report said.
However, Barnabas Fund, a Christian organization that supports Christians suffering from discrimination or oppression, said the agreement is providing grounds for “serious concerns that the definition of hate speech is so vague it could effectively censor anything deemed politically incorrect, including for example, any criticism of Islamism, mass migration or even the European Union itself.”
The group said it could have serious implications for Christian organizations such as Barnabas Fund that report the persecution of Christians, including converts from Islam.
The Christian organization said that by adopting the policy, the EU “is therefore restricting freedom of the press, something that has existed as a historic national value in countries such as the UK for over 300 years.”
“It is giving Islamic organizations the power to censor any online comments critical of Islam, including those discussing the rapidly spreading persecution of Christians in Muslim majority contexts. Even worse it is doing so not directly, in a way in which it might perhaps be held to account by the electorate, but via commercial companies,” Barnabas Fund said.
IT companies will have to set up processes to remove material that draws complaints, specifically material that promotes “the incitement to violence and hateful conduct.”
They are to train staff members on “current societal developments,” but they don’t clearly defines “hate” speech, which drew criticism from the National Secular Society.
“The plans rest on a vague definition of ‘hate speech’ and risk threatening online discussions which criticize religion,” the group said.
“The agreement comes amid repeated accusations from ex-Muslims that social media organizations are censoring them online. The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain has now begun collecting examples from its followers on Facebook censoring ‘atheist, secular and ex-Muslim content’ after false ‘mass reporting’ by ‘cyber jihadists.’”
NSS communications officer Benjamin Jones said: “Far from tackling online ‘cyber jihad,’ the agreement risks having the exact opposite effect and entrapping any critical discussion of religion under ague ‘hate speech’ rules. Poorly trained Facebook or Twitter staff, perhaps with their own ideological bias, could easily see heated criticism of Islam and think it is ‘hate speech,’ particularly if pages or users are targeted and mass reported by Islamists.’”
The EU said hate speech is “public incitement to violence or hatred directed against a group of persons . . . defined by reference to race, color, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin.”
However, Jones said, “Incitement to violence and incitement to ‘hatred’ are very different things.”
The Index on Censorship noted, “Hate speech laws are already too broad and ambiguous in much of Europe. This agreement fails to properly define what ‘illegal hate speech’ is and does not provide sufficient safeguards for freedom of expression.”
When the announcement was made, Bloomberg reported: “A French Jewish youth group, UEJF, sued Twitter, Facebook and Google in Paris this month over how they monitor hate speech on the Web. In the course of about six weeks in April and May, members of French anti-discrimination groups flagged unambiguous hate speech that they said promoted racism, homophobia or anti-Semitism. More than 90 percent of the posts pointed out to Twitter and YouTube remained online within 15 days on average following requests for removal, according to the study by UEJF, SOS Racisme and SOS Homophobie.”
The AP said the company was telling customers to use online reporting tools to monitor speech.