On May 31, the European Union and IT companies, namely Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and Microsoft, perpetuated Europe’s war on free speech with new code of conduct to counter hate speech online. Specifically, “racism and xenophobia” will be further cracked down upon by European authorities and their internet allies. The code of conduct is not legally binding upon the internet companies. However, the code establishes a public commitment on behalf of these internet companies to combat such unwanted speech, and it creates new agreements to enable these internet companies to both more quickly remove such speech and expression from their platforms upon their, as well as the police’s, discretion.
The code of conduct is riddled with contradictions that deeply reflect Europe’s utter lack of respect for the right to free speech. On the one hand, the code of conduct repeatedly establishes the necessity of and pride in promoting free speech: the first sentence states that the IT companies share “a collective responsibility and pride in promoting and facilitating freedom of expression throughout the online world”; the third sentence expresses the IT companies and the European Commission’s deep belief in “the need to defend the right to freedom of expression”; the code of conduct even goes as far as to say that without this ban on hate speech “a chilling effect on the democratic discourse on online platforms” would take place.
On the other hand, the code establishes no safeguards for the free speech they claim to support, and it uses an extremely vague definition as to what types of expression quantify as illegal hate speech: expression that publicly incites “hatred directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin,” is to be forbidden and possibly punished. Jodie Ginsberg, CEO of Index on Censorship, an international organization dedicated to protecting free speech rights, publicly stated the following in her critique of the new code:
Hate speech laws are already too broad and ambiguous in much of Europe. This agreement fails to properly define what “illegal hate speech” is and does not provide sufficient safeguards for freedom of expression…It devolves power once again to unelected corporations to determine what amounts to hate speech and police it…It will simply drive unpalatable ideas and opinions underground where they are harder to police — or to challenge.
In the end, any attempt to silence hate speech is an attack on the right to free expression. Opinions that are mundane and favorably approved of do not need legal protection in order to be expressed; the right to free speech was developed to serve as such a protection for the thoughts and beliefs that we hate. For the EU and these internet companies to continue to separate hate speech from free speech does not qualify their commitment to this fundamental right, it destroys it.