Tech companies sign EU code to combat online hate speech

Some of the largest U.S. tech companies have signed a code of conduct with the European Union meant to help limit the spread of hate speech online. 

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft signed the agreement, which requires companies to review most reports of hate speech on their platforms and remove them within 24 hours. 

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“The recent terror attacks have reminded us of the urgent need to address illegal online hate speech,” EU Commissioner Vĕra Jourová said in a statement. “Social media is unfortunately one of the tools that terrorist groups use to radicalize young people and racists use to spread violence and hatred.”

The agreement includes a dozen specific commitments to help counter the spread of hate speech. That includes one vow to continue work to promote “independent counter-narratives.” 

The United States and Europe have pressed tech companies to do more to combat hate speech online following a series of terrorist attacks, including the ones in Paris and Brussels. 

Following the March bombings in Brussels that killed more than 30 people, the EU vowed to hurry its work to counter “terrorist propaganda” online by creating a code of conduct. 

Major tech companies already have removal systems in place and ban hate speech on their platforms. An increasing number have started explicitly banning terror-related content, including Microsoft, which updated its policy this month

Following meetings with the White House on the subject, Twitter in February noted that it had removed 125,000 terror-related posts since mid-2015. That number has only grown since then. 

“We remain committed to letting the Tweets flow. However, there is a clear distinction between freedom of expression and conduct that incites violence and hate,” Twitter’s head of European public policy, Karen White, said. 

In Europe, hate speech has a specific definition that was outlined in a 2008 policy framework. It means all conduct inciting violence or hatred directed at a group by race, color, religion, descent, nation or ethnic origin.