There is a lot of ambiguity when it comes to the EU cooperation with Facebook, Twitter, Youtube/Google and Microsoft to censor the Internet – the Joint Referral Platform.
On the one hand, it has been marketed as a tool to stop »radicalization« that could lead young people to religiously motivated violence, e.g. terrorism or joining the Islamic State in the Middle East.
On the other hand, in documents and speeches the EU is totally focused on this project to stem »illegal online hate speech«, e.g. when it comes to racism and Islamophobia.
On that account, what is deemed to be »illegal« adds to the confusion. Incitement to violence is clearly and reasonably within this definition. But when it comes to the broader definition of hate speech, laws vary between EU member states.
Recent “hate speech” investigations in European countries have been spawned by homily remarks by a Spanish Cardinal who opposed “radical feminism,” a hyperbolic hashtag tweeted by a U.K. diversity coordinator, a chant for fewer Moroccan immigrants to enter the Netherlands, comments from a reality TV star implying Scottish people have Ebola, a man who put a sign in his home window saying “Islam out of Britian,” French activists calling for boycotts of Israeli products, an anti-Semitic tweet sent to a British politician, a Facebook post referring to refugees to Germany as “scum,” and various other sorts of so-called “verbal radicalism” on social media.
A practical dilemma is that »hate« is something very subjective. Who is to define what is legitimate criticism and what is hate?
For instance, religion often has very real implications on how people are supposed to live their lives, how society should be organised and what kind of laws we should have. Clearly, you should be allowed to debate this freely in the same way that you debate politics. Yet, the tendency is that what is allowed to be said when it comes to religion is becoming ever more narrow compared to politics.
Then, you have the problem that some laws against hate speech awards some groups of people different sets of rights compared to others.
When something becomes illegal to say about someone, but not someone else – you are treating people in different ways. This is a huge democratic problem and not the way to do things under the rule of law. What this can lead to, we can learn from history.
Finally, there is the general problem that this is all about censorship, about limiting free speech. You either have free speech or you don’t. If you stop people from expressing their opinions, by definition you do not have free speech. It’s as simple as that.
• Euro Logic: We Must Kill Free Speech to Promote Free Speech »
• United Against Hate Speech on the Web: Where do we stand? – Speech by Commissioner Jourová at Conference with German Justice Minister Maas »
• Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Microsoft Agree to Hate-Speech Code of Conduct »
• European Commission and IT Companies announce Code of Conduct on illegal online hate speech »
• EU code of conduct on countering illegal hate speech online (PDF) »