Twitter Fails E.U. Standard on Removing Hate Speech Online

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Twitter has failed to meet European standards for removing hate speech online, figures to be published Thursday show, as pressure mounts, particularly on the Continent, for tech companies to do more to tackle such harmful material.

The battle between European policy makers and tech companies over what should be permitted online has pitted freedom of speech campaigners against those who say hate speech — in whatever form — has no place on the internet.

In this standoff, European officials have called on Silicon Valley companies to take down at least 50 percent of the hate speech from their services once they are notified, and they signed up the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Google to a voluntary code of conduct last year to combat the rising tide of harmful content online.

But findings to be published by the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, show that Twitter removed hate speech from its network less than 40 percent of the time after such content had been flagged to the company.


While the social network failed to meet the European standard, it has improved significantly from a study published late last year, which found that it removed a mere 19 percent of hate speech when notified.

It comes as pressure mounts on Twitter, whose revenue and user figures continue to stall, to clean up its act as the company has become one of the main mechanisms for internet trolls to spread their messages across the web.

Google and Facebook, by contrast, now comply with the region’s demands to take down at least 50 percent of hate speech, upon notification, according to the study.

“We embarked in this process together, determined to bring about real changes for people who suffer from hatred and violence online,” Vera Jourova, the European commissioner of justice, consumers and gender equality, said in a statement on Wednesday before the report’s publication. “The code of conduct on countering illegal hate speech online has delivered significant progress.”

In response, Twitter said it had invested in new reporting procedures to allow individuals to flag probable hate speech, and it was striving to balance people’s right to freedom of expression with the need to police material on its network.

“Our work will never be ‘done,’” Karen White, Twitter’s head of public policy in Europe, said in a statement.

Google and Facebook also said they had made it easier for organizations and individuals to report hate speech and they were continuing to invest to tackle such material across the region and elsewhere.

The European findings were based on about 2,500 potential instances of hate speech recorded by 34 nongovernmental organizations in 24 of the European Union’s 28 member states. These groups notified the tech companies of the possible abuse and recorded how the companies responded. The study was conducted over seven weeks through May 5.

Fifty-nine percent of the material flagged by these nongovernmental groups was removed by tech companies, according to the report. Just over 50 percent of the notifications were assessed by tech companies within the first 24 hours.

While the Pan-European findings were greeted with praise by Ms. Jourova, policy makers in several countries have said that they will take more action against Silicon Valley companies if they do not go further in tackling hate speech online.

After the recent terrorist attack in Manchester, England, Theresa May, the country’s prime minister, called on tech companies to strengthen their monitoring of extremist speech online. And in Germany, lawmakers are planning new legislation that could lead to fines of up to $50 million if companies do not act quickly in policing harmful material on their digital services.

MARK SCOTT

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