LA Times Editorial Board Criticizes EU Hate Speech Code of Conduct for Online Platforms

  • June 9, 2016

In response to a Code of Conduct adopted at the request of the European Commission by online companies Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft, the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board called the Code “a well-meaning but heavy-handed move against jihadist propaganda.”  The Editorial explained:

The code of conduct was presented as a set of voluntary commitments closely tracking what the four companies say they’ve been doing on their own initiatives. But it’s not as if they could have blithely refused to cooperate. Under European law, certain types of hate speech are illegal and must be removed on request. The commission also is a highly active regulator  — much more so than U.S. authorities are — having launched antitrust, tax and privacy enforcement actions against some or all of the four companies. In other words, they would have ignored the commission at their peril.

The LA Times Editorial Board itemized its concerns this way:

  • “The Commission’s move could lead the companies to censor legal speech as well. Rather than leaving companies to set their own terms of use, the code of conduct mandates that such rules “prohibit the promotion of incitement to violence and hateful conduct,” which is a vaguer and broader category than what European governments have outlawed.”
  • “It would fast-track the removal of content flagged by advocacy groups and other non-governmental organizations blessed by European officials, leaving those whose posts are blocked online with no due-process rights (the companies say they have internal appeals processes, but that’s a far cry from the court-supervised process under U.S. copyright law).”
  • “The code could set a precedent for other countries to force Internet companies to restrain speech more than their laws dictate or global principles of human rights support. For example, what if a repressive regime demands that social networks adopt rules banning “incitement to instability” or other code words for dissent?”
  • “But just as the United States has struggled to find the right balance between security and civil liberties, so too must the commission be careful not to squelch legal speech. The new code of conduct may be well-meaning, but it would have been better to have a truly voluntary effort by social networks backed by real due-process protections.”

While Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO has stated that the Code parallels ADL’s Best Practices for Responding to Cyberhate, and that empowering users to better report hate speech is the reason why ADL has brought it Cyber-Safety Action Guide to Europe, ADL acknowledges the concerns expressed by civil society and the Los Angeles Times, and continues to believe that voluntary efforts to combat online hate speech is preferable to government-imposed requirements.  ADL has committed to work with the European Jewish Congress and European Union of Jewish Students to expand ADL’s Cyber-Safety Action Guide for use by European citizens in the wake of the EU Code announcement.

More from this Section