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Microsoft, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook target online hate speech

New EC Code of Conduct demands action against reported violations within 24 hours

Microsoft is one of four major technology companies to pledge their support for a European Commission initiative designed to combat online hate speech.

Online platforms have afforded billions of people freedom of communication, but that also means an environment in which speech intended to incite hate and violence can spread quickly.

In a statement issued today, the European Commission said that the companies that operate these platforms share, "a collective responsibility and pride in promoting and facilitating freedom of expression throughout the online world. However... the spread of illegal hate speech online not only negatively affects the groups or individuals that it targets, it also negatively impacts those who speak out for freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination in our open societies and has a chilling effect on the democratic discourse on online platforms."

In a first step to combat this trend, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and YouTube have all pledged their support to a new Code of Conduct that will lead to an improved system for preventing and pursuing, "individual perpetrators of hate speech." The four companies have agreed to 12 public commitments, including one that, "they review the majority of valid notifications for removal of illegal hate speech in less than 24 hours and remove or disable access to such content, if necessary."

Collectively, Microsoft, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook operate services that are integral to both the games industry and gamer culture, and examples of those services being used to communicate hatred and violence are not difficult to find. GamerGate is an obvious example of online platforms being used to incite hatred and violence towards figures like Anita Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu. More recently, Hello Games' Sean Murray had his life threatened for delaying the eagerly anticipated PlayStation 4 exclusive No Man's Sky.

And this is part of a broader acknowledgement that a firmer hand is required to combat poisonous elements in online communities. For example, Blizzard and Twitch are now developing a pilot program to address racism and hate speech in livestreamed eSports events.

"We believe these are important steps to take to help address the related issues, but we acknowledge that they only address part of the problem," said Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime. "This is ultimately an industry-wide issue, and it will take all of us to make a real impact."

In an editorial following the announcement by Blizzard and Twitch, our own Rob Fahey said that the apparently bright future of eSports could be under threat without more effective measures against the kind of speech and behaviour that is increasingly commonplace in that culture.

"You cannot build a mass market business, let alone a mass market sport, a mass market culture, off the back of something that involves constant rape jokes, homophobic slurs and racist abuse," he said.

Latest comments (12)

Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft GermanyA year ago
"they review the majority of valid notifications for removal of illegal hate speech in less than 24 hours and remove or disable access to such content, if necessary."
It would be nice if they define what is "illegal" for them. Is there some "legally allowed hate speech" they tolerate and that won't be filtered?
Hate speech may be a problem, but in those networks (specially youtube) the problem is people being toxic in general, not the particular things they say.
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Andrew Watson Tools Programmer A year ago
toxic
This is an equally vague term, the meaning of which I'm pretty sure just means "thing I don't like", based on how I've seen it used.
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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft GermanyA year ago
@Andrew: I don't like to be insulted and be told things about my mother when I chose one item/hero over another instead of the suggestions and communication required to win a match.

Let that happen regularly and in the end you get people driven out a game they no longer enjoy because of this toxic goons. That what toxic means and why is a problem for game companies with community dependent. products.
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Andrew Watson Tools Programmer A year ago
My point is that words like "toxic" and "problematic" are incredibly vague words that can be used to fit just about any situation, and then used as grounds for banning things you don't like. This is exactly the sort of thing the people who made this ruling want to be able to do.

Controversial opinion time: being assholes to each other is something humans have been doing since the damn stone age. No law is going to stop that; people will always find ways around it -- history has proven this time and time again. Learning how to deal with other people, especially the things they say, is part of being an adult. I draw the line when real life gets involved, but mean words on the screen should just be ignored. You can't live your whole life getting upset every time someone calls you a meanie poopie head.

The internet is the first place where people can finally be open and speak their mind honestly. The only reason that is possible is because of the lack of repercussions for saying things people disagree with. If seeing the best of what people have to say means i also have to see the worst, I'd gladly accept that over an internet where I constantly have to tiptoe around everyone and only say things that are popular.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Andrew Watson on 3rd June 2016 9:20am

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Jamie Firth Video Games Production A year ago
The internet is the first place where people can finally be open and speak their mind honestly.
Surely the first place where this was possible was in the street, pubs, coffee shops, writing letters to newspapers, etc etc? The difference is that, given anonymity/distance, people are shielded from having to feel any empathy, or the reaction to what they are saying.
So it makes a lot of sense, for me, to have the ability to shield myself by being able to report, ignore, block, silence etc people who repeatedly call me a "meanie poopie head". Just as pub landlords/coffee shop proprietors are able to bar people from their establishment if people act inappropriately (by their own judgement), it seems reasonable that online platforms that offer the same opportunities can make similar judgements and repercussions?
Then if people want to continue to exhibit the same behaviour, they can find another venue/platform that might welcome the same (and perhaps not be totally surprised/outraged if they also find it unacceptable?)
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Shane Sweeney Academic A year ago
False dichotomy. Having consequences for death threats does not mean people can only say things that are popular.

We can and will have both consequences and freedom.
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Bonnie Patterson Narrative Designer, Writer A year ago
Bear in mind, hate speech is already illegal in a great many countries and the internet does not make you exempt to the law of the land. In the UK, verbal abuse, written speech, acts of harassment and other acts designed to cause distress in members of certain specified groups or based on certain traits, or which are likely to stir up hatred against such groups are prohibited under a number of laws. Likewise, threats of violence and sexual violence are also illegal.

Permitting hate speech and incitements to hatred does nothing at all to protect free speech - the people making hate speech are already effectively muzzling those they are targeting.

It's also very expensive for publishers and developers of community-focused games (lobbied multiplayer games, social games and MMOs in particular), where one determined, obnoxious individual can drive off enough players to cost thousands in potential revenue, and the effect escalates roughly exponentially the more toxic players there are.
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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft GermanyA year ago
The internet is the first place where people can finally be open and speak their mind honestly.
...If you are somebody who know is going to be very offensive and tends to shut his month because he/she knows he/she will receive a heavy backslash... then yes. If not, you are deeply wrong there.

You can speak your mind honestly pretty much everywhere if you are respectful and re surrounded by people with a minimum of civic behavior. On the other side, Internet is the first place where a person can be a jerk without facing consequences.

And since we can be fully honest here. If you really identify with what you said before, I start to get an idea of the environments you generally take part of (no offense, really, but that's what it looks like)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Alfonso Sexto on 6th June 2016 8:06am

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Steven Hodgson Programmer, Code in Progress LtdA year ago
Then if people want to continue to exhibit the same behaviour, they can find another venue/platform that might welcome the same (and perhaps not be totally surprised/outraged if they also find it unacceptable?)
I'm okay with these companies doing this on their own accord as it is their platform, if they become too restrictive then something else will appear, people will migrate away, and the cycle will be repeated.

The fear people have is it becoming law, then there would be no other platform. It is not hard to see this system being abused like the DMCA takedown notices on YouTube, vaguely defined terms leave it up to the one reviewing the flagged content to decide what is okay and not based on their own opinions.
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Bonnie Patterson Narrative Designer, Writer A year ago
@Steven Hodgson It's already law and has been for decades, I think since the 1985(?) Public Order Act (in the UK). It's often not feasible to prosecute for online offences, but that's not the same as hate speech being legal.

That said, "Hate speech" is a legally-defined term that is fairly specific, and there are any number of ways to make a legitimate point (if you have one) about protected classes without straying into actual hate speech. So the question becomes whether or not Facebook et al intend to use the legal definition or not.

This is from memory and therefore a bit vague, but I think it hinges on whether a reasonable person would consider a given screed to have any other purpose than stirring up hatred towards a protected class.

I don't have the exact page to hand right now (slow browser day), but if you google "CPS guidelines hate speech" there should be a page that explains in pretty plain English what the British justice system considers hate speech and how it should be prosecuted or not.
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Steven Hodgson Programmer, Code in Progress LtdA year ago
@Bonnie Patterson While the UK has its own hate speech laws, what if the originator of the hate speech isn't from the UK. If someone uses hate speech that is okay in the country the user is from but not in the country of someone who takes offence to it since they are part of the group targeted, which would have precedence?
As you mentioned however, maybe it would come down to whether or not Facebook would intend to use the legal definition from a specific country.
EDIT: Thought I should mention since I worded it badly, when I said for it to become law, I meant it as a website offering discourse having to enforce these rules.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Steven Hodgson on 8th June 2016 12:24pm

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Connor Martin Aspiring game designer/tester A year ago
So whose definition? Cos I know for a fact Twitter and Facebook have happily banned things not in violation of rules because soembody sees words similar to those in hate speech without the context of such. This is a rich idea for manipulation and twisting to silence people not breaking any rules, leavng the people who DO break them more free to roam.
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