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Europe may harmonize how internet companies fight hate speech

The EU is mulling rules that ensure consistent hate speech takedowns.
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Peter Endig/AFP/Getty Images

Internet companies are already taking action against hate speech, but it's no secret that they don't always tackle it in the same way. One may delete the hostile material immediately, while the other might spend days reviewing it before taking action. That wildly inconsistent approach might not fly in European Union countries before long. Reuters says it has obtained a draft European Commission document proposing that the EU implement measures that harmonize how online firms remove hate speech, child porn and other illegal content. Just how they'd take material down isn't clear, but Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter have already agreed to an EU code of conduct that requires takedowns within 24 hours -- this would dictate how they pull the offensive content.

The draft is quick to acknowledge that a common rule set wouldn't be easy. There are "justified" differences depending on the type of content, for instance. However, it believes that consistent takedown guidelines would lead to a "more transparent and predictable environment" where internet companies would be more willing to curb hate speech.

A paper like this doesn't guarantee action. Nonetheless, it's easy to see the tech industry being uneasy with mandates. What if the rules are too rigid and don't account for differences between sites and services? What are the chances of inadvertently pulling innocuous material? And would a harmonized process be quick enough that 24 hours is a realistic time frame for the vast majority of removals? If the idea goes forward, the EU will have to be careful to set realistic rules that are acceptable for both companies and the public.

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