- Even before such EU-wide legislation, similar ostensible "anti-terror legislation" in France, for example, is being used as a political tool against political opponents and to limit unwanted free speech.
- In France, simply spreading information about ISIS atrocities is now considered "incitement to terrorism". It is this kind of legislation, it seems, that the European Commission now wishes to impose on all of the European Union.
- Social media giants -- Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Microsoft, Google+ and Instagram -- act as voluntary censors on behalf of the European Union.
- The European Commission states that it is specifically interested in funding projects that focus on the "development of technology and innovative web tools preventing and countering illegal hate speech online and supporting data collection", and studies that analyze "the spread of racist and xenophobic hate speech in different Member States..."
The European Union seems fixated, at least for the internet, on killing free speech. And social media giants -- Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Microsoft, Google+ and Instagram -- act as voluntary censors on behalf of the EU. (Image source: iStock)
In March, the European Commission -- the unelected executive branch of the European Union -- told social media companies to remove illegal online terrorist content within an hour -- or risk facing EU-wide legislation on the topic. This ultimatum was part of a new set of recommendations that applies to all forms of supposedly "illegal content" online. This content ranges "from terrorist content, incitement to hatred and violence, child sexual abuse material, counterfeit products and copyright infringement."
While the one-hour ultimatum was ostensibly only about terrorist content, the following is how the European Commission presented the new recommendations at the time:
"... The Commission has taken a number of actions to protect Europeans online – be it from terrorist content, illegal hate speech or fake news... we are continuously looking into ways we can improve our fight against illegal content online. Illegal content means any information which is not in compliance with Union law or the law of a Member State, such as content inciting people to terrorism, racist or xenophobic, illegal hate speech, child sexual exploitation... What is illegal offline is also illegal online".
"Illegal hate speech", is then broadly defined by the European Commission as "incitement to violence or 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".
The EU has now decided that these "voluntary efforts" to remove terrorist content within an hour on the part of the social media giants are not enough: that legislation must be introduced. According to the European Commission's recent press release:
"The Commission has already been working on a voluntary basis with a number of key stakeholders – including online platforms, Member States and Europol – under the EU Internet Forum in order to limit the presence of terrorist content online. In March, the Commission recommended a number of actions to be taken by companies and Member States to further step up this work. Whilst these efforts have brought positive results, overall progress has not been sufficient".
According to the press release, the new rules will include draconian fines issued to internet companies who fail to live up to the new legislation:
"Member States will have to put in place effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties for not complying with orders to remove online terrorist content. In the event of systematic failures to remove such content following removal orders, a service provider could face financial penalties of up to 4% of its global turnover for the last business year".
It is hard to see why anyone would believe that there will be effective judicial remedies and that erroneously removed content will be reinstated. Even before such EU-wide legislation, similar ostensible "anti-terror legislation" in France, for example, is being used as a political tool against political opponents and to limit unwanted free speech. Marine Le Pen, leader of France's Front National, was charged earlier this year for tweeting images in 2015 of ISIS atrocities, includingthe beheading of American journalist James Foley and a photo of a man being burned by ISIS in a cage. She faces charges of circulating "violent messages that incite terrorism or pornography or seriously harm human dignity", and that can be viewed by a minor. The purported crime is punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of €75,000 ($88,000). Le Pen posted the pictures a few weeks after the Paris terror attacks in November 2015, in which 130 people were killed, and the text she wrote to accompany the images was "Daesh is this!" In France, then, simply spreading information about ISIS atrocities is now considered "incitement to terrorism". It is this kind of legislation, it seems, that the European Commission now wishes to impose on all of the EU.
The decision to enact legislation in this area was taken at the June 2018 European Council meeting – a gathering of all the EU's heads of state – in which the Council welcomed "the intention of the Commission to present a legislative proposal to improve the detection and removal of content that incites hatred and to commit terrorist acts". It sounds, however, as if the EU is planning to legislate about a lot more than just "terrorism".
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