The European Commission united with online powers such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter in a joint announcement Tuesday solidifying their position on so-called "hate speech" and pledging how they are going to fight it.
"Hate speech," according to Facebook’s new policy, is any speech that promotes incitement to direct and serious attack or hateful conduct “on any protected category of people based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or disease.”
These direct and serious attacks can include real world violence such and theft, assault, or destruction of property, or anything that directly inflicts emotional distress on a “specific private individual.”
Facebook and other online giants say they'll allow offensive or controversial speech and ideas to be posted, but it is difficult to say at what point these statements become "hate speech."
These online companies will fight hate speech by deleting the offensive posts within twenty four hours, disabling access to the content, or even blocking the person who posted it. They will also help “to raise awareness with their users about the type of content not permitted” and will also “aim to continue their work in identifying and promoting independent counter-narratives, new ideas and initiatives, and supporting educational programs that encourage critical thinking” to help combat hate speech.
These new measure come in response to recent terrorist attacks, as well as the terrorist organizations that are using the internet and social media to proselytize and recruit.
These are all noble intentions and hopefully will bring about a decrease in terrorist attacks and real life violence. But the vague and subjective line between "hate speech" and simply saying something unpopular is cause for worry. The internet and social media is a great place for sharing ideas, and many ideas or posts could be considered harmful or personally offensive without being meant as hate speech.
Think back to the Melody Hensley debate two years ago. She claimed that she had devolped PTSD after getting into online arguments with people over gender and politics, saying that she was the target of online harassment due to her open status as an atheist and feminist activist (which mostly came in the form of people arguing against her online tweets). If that happened now, Hensley could ostensibly make a case that because she suffered from emotional and psychological distress, those who argued with her should banned from social media.
If this increase in censoring hate speech is not carefully watched, it could start infringing on normal discussions and the sharing of ideas. We can only hope that these measures will decrease the amount of violence while still allowing for freedom of speech.