EU Gives Tech Giants 1 Hour to Remove Online Hate Speech

Emmanuel Dunard  AFP  Getty Images
Andrus Ansip Vice President of the European Commission

The new operational measures are particularly focused on terrorist content with a one-hour rule coming into force that calls on internet companies to remove extremist material within sixty minutes of being alerted to it.

However the European Union maintained that this was necessary, and argued: "Considering that terrorist content is most harmful in the first hours of its appearance online, all companies should remove such content within one hour from its referral as a general rule".

Last month the Commission said IT firms removed 70 per cent of illegal content notified to them in the preceding few months.

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While automation can expedite the identification and removal process, humans should oversee the process to make sure takedowns aren't excessive, the WSJ said. The recommendations are non-binding, but they can still be used as legal references in court, notes The Wall Street Journal. If sites fail to follow the rule, the European Union will work towards a formal regulation, the WSJ noted. "What is illegal offline is also illegal online", said vice-president for the digital single market Andrus Ansip.

Social media and other internet companies have been scrutinised heavily by the European Commission (EC) over what it sees as their failure to handle risky content uploaded to their respective platforms.

"While several platforms have been removing more illegal content than ever before - showing that self-regulation can work - we still need to react faster against terrorist propaganda", Ansip said.

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According to WSJ, tech companies are wary the guidelines may infringe on freedom of expression.

The commission said it would monitor what actions are taken before deciding whether it needs to press ahead with EU-wide legislation. Germany has already rolled out legislation that took effect earlier this year, requiring social media companies like Facebook and Twitter to delete illegal content on their platforms, ranging from slander and libel to neo-Nazi propaganda and calls to violence, or face €50 million ($61 million) fines.

However, a spokesperson from EDiMA, a European trade association that represents more than a dozen of the world's tech companies including Facebook, Google and Twitter on issues that impact their business in Europe told BuzzFeed News that the association was "dismayed" by the European Commission's decision to not engage with the companies before issuing recommendations.

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The EC has also warned tech companies that it will consider the need for legislation within three months if the situation doesn't improve on terrorist content due to the urgency of the problem. Illegal content is deleted from larger servers but then reappears on small and medium-sized platforms.

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