By Laju Iren & Emmanuel Elebeke
The beauty of the internet is that anybody can say anything and not be held accountable. When freedom of speech is for a good cause, this is a beautiful thing. However, when social media platforms are used to recruit terrorists and spread hatred against people-groups, it becomes a totally different situation altogether. Although advancement in technology is making it easier to track propagators of harmful information, the ugly truth remains that online terrorism is growing in leaps and bounds.
Governments and international organisations are quickly realizing that the situation cannot be resolved without full cooperation from social media giants. Europe has been one of the continents hardest hit by online radicalization. The bombings in London in 2005, the Charlie Hebdo attack and then the co-ordinated attacks in Paris in 2015 seem to point to the reason why the European Union called on all major technology companies in May this year to join hands in dealing with the menace. The EU called on Facebook, Twitter, Google’s YouTube and Microsoft to hasten their crackdown on hate speech and incitement to terrorism on their websites or face the possibility of laws that will force them to do so.
Consequent upon this, the companies signed a “code of conduct” with the EU to “quickly and efficiently” combat the spread of hate speech online. The code of conduct required the companies to review the “majority” of flagged illegal hate speeches within 24 hours and remove them, if necessary. The firms also agreed to strengthen partnerships with civil society organisations that do report content promoting violence, terrorism and hateful content.
However, according to a report by EU Justice Commissioner, Vera Jourova, an investigation into the compliance level showed that the companies in practice may likely take longer to achieve this goal.
“They only reviewed 40 per cent of the recorded cases in less than 24 hours. After 48 hours the figure is more than 80 per cent. This shows that the target can realistically be achieved, but this will need much stronger efforts by the IT companies,” said Jourova, adding that the tech giants’ compliance with the code so far has not been satisfactory.
According to EU, while YouTube was the fastest to respond to flagged hateful content, Twitter was the slowest to do so. The report indicated that after 600 notifications of suspected hateful content to the companies in six months, it was found that 316 cases warranted a response from the firm.
However, the flagged content was deleted in just 163 cases. In 153 cases, the content was not taken down because the companies said they found no violation of their community rules.