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Europe praises internet giants for progress on hate speech

The number of illegal posts removed by Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft has doubled in the last six months. But more can still be done, says the EU.

Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft have all improved by leaps and bounds when it comes to tackling hate speech, said the European Commission on Thursday.

One year on from the companies signing a code of conduct drawn up together with the EU, the companies have improved significantly, removing twice as much hate speech as they did six months ago and at a faster rate.

The code of conduct was established when the EU and its member states recognized they had a collective responsibility, along with internet giants, to ensure citizens felt safe online. Rather than create more laws to hold the US-based companies to account, they collaborated on guidelines that all parties were happy to commit to. However, there's still a chance new laws covering social media platforms could be on the way. Last month, EU states reportedly approved plans to make social media companies address videos with hate speech and violence on their networks. The proposals still need a vote in European Parliament before they become law.

Abusive language and violent speech have proliferated online almost as long as the internet has existed. However, social media companies have encountered greater pressure to tackle the threatening content as their influence on culture and society has grown. Free-speech advocates warn that cracking down on controversial discussions skirts into censorship.

The companies that agreed to the code of conduct are still some way off hitting their targets, but the progress so far is "encouraging," said Vĕra Jourová, EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, in a statement.

A European Commission analysis found that 59 percent of illegal content is now being removed from online platforms, which obviously leaves room for improvement. The companies jointly committed to reviewing illegal hate speech within 24 hours of being notified about it and now do so in 51 percent of cases, up from 40 percent in December 2016.

Facebook was praised for sending feedback to all users who report content, but the Commission said it was inconsistent across other platforms and further progress could be made.

"This is an important step in the right direction and shows that a self-regulatory approach can work, if all actors do their part," said Jourová. "At the same time, companies carry a great responsibility and need to make further progress to deliver on all the commitments."

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