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Google hosts debate on online restrictions to free speech

Summary

  • Unclear and broad definition of “hate speech” threatens freedom of expression online
  • Significant increase in material being removed since introduction of EU Code of Conduct on online “hate speech”

BRUSSELS (8 February 2019) – Who decides what we can and cannot say on the internet? Earlier this week, Debating Europe and Google hosted a debate about online censorship under the title of “Who should decide what is acceptable online?” The debate featured Eva Maydell MEP, Benjamin Ledwon from Bitkom, Julia Mozer from A Jewish Contribution to an Inclusive Europe (CEJI), and Lorcán Price, Legal Counsel for ADF International.

“Freedom of speech is a fundamental right which is central to a democratic society. It should be protected and fostered in the public sphere, both in person and online. Criminalizing speech merely on the grounds that it might offend someone is immensely destructive towards our society and creates a culture of censorship and fear. With the internet we are faced with a new landscape of public discussion and any restrictions on speech must be well defined, proportionate, and most importantly, must safeguard the free exchange of ideas and opinions,” said Lorcán Price, Legal Counsel for ADF International.

Censorship on the internet

In 2016, the European Commission released a Code of Conduct on “illegal hate speech” online. Four major technology companies, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and YouTube, committed themselves to the guidelines. Instagram has also recently joined the group. This is despite the fact that the Code of Conduct received high levels of opposition. Many see it as a censorship tool and threat to freedom of speech and expression.

“The unclear and broad definition of so-called ‘hate speech’ makes it impossible to achieve consensus amongst tech companies, legislators, and private individuals on what should or should not be allowed on the internet. This has resulted in an alarming increase in material being removed by technology companies, especially on social media platforms. This trend sets a clear path for censorship and violations of freedom of thought and expression when, often, the only test is whether someone finds something ‘offensive,’” said Lorcán Price.

Watch the full debate here.

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