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New EU hate speech rules agreed to by Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Microsoft

In a moment of unity among tech giants and the European Union, Facebook, Twitter, Google-owned YouTube, and Microsoft agreed on Tuesday to a new code of conduct that seeks to address hate speech within 24 hours in Europe. The decision marks a significant victory for the EU, which has spent the last several months attempting to stymie the rising tide of what the EU characterizes as hate speech across various social media platforms that emerged as a result of the ongoing refugee crisis and recent terror attacks.

Previous hesitations regarding such action against racist posts and other forms of hate speech seemed to stem from the internet firms’ attempts to protect free speech, but now, it would appear that they will follow the EU’s direction on the issue. The aforementioned companies have agreed to review “the majority of valid requests” in under 24 hours, and either remove or prevent access to such content in some cases.

“The recent terror attacks have reminded us of the urgent need to address illegal online hate speech. Social media is unfortunately one of the tools that terrorist groups use to radicalize young people,” said EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova.

In addition to the new review policy, the tech companies will also further cooperate with organizations that have authority to flag hate speech online, and will offer “counter-narratives” to the speech marked for prohibition.

“There’s no place for hate speech on Facebook,” said Monika Bickert, Head of Global Policy Management at Facebook. “With a global community of 1.6 billion people we work hard to balance giving people the power to express themselves whilst ensuring we provide a respectful environment.”

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Already, a number of these companies have made clear their commitment to eliminating what they term inappropriate and offensive content on their platforms. Since mid-2015, for example, Twitter has suspended more than 125,000 accounts for either making threats or promoting terrorism, most of which were linked to ISIS.

“We’re committed to giving people access to information through our services, but we have always prohibited illegal hate speech on our platforms,” Lie Junius, Google’s head of public policy and government relations, said in a statement. “We have efficient systems to review valid notifications in less than 24 hours and to remove illegal content. We are pleased to work with the Commission to develop co- and self-regulatory approaches to fighting hate speech online.”