(JTA) – Jewish groups welcomed a pledge by four internet giants to crack down on online hate speech, though some questioned the firms’ commitment to act.
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft on Tuesday signed a code of conduct with the European Commission that requires them to delete the majority of reported illegal hate speech within 24 hours, The Telegraph reported.
The European Jewish Congress offered an “enthusiastic welcome” to the code of conduct in a statement Tuesday, but the World Jewish Congress reacted more coolly in a statement the same day, voicing “skepticism about the commitment of these firms to effectively police their respective platforms.”
YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and others “already have clear guidelines in place aimed at preventing the spread of offensive content, yet they have so far utterly failed to properly implement their own rules,” the CEO of the World Jewish Congress, Robert Singer, said in the statement.
“Tens of thousands of despicable video clips continue to be made available although their existence has been reported to YouTube and despite the fact that they are in clear violation of the platform’s own guidelines prohibiting racist hate speech. … Nonetheless, YouTube gives the impression that it has been cracking down on such content. Alas, the reality is that so far it hasn’t.”
Last week, France’s Union of Jewish Students, or UEJF, and the anti-racist organization SOS Racisme sued Twitter, YouTube and Facebook for failing to remove anti-Semitic, racist and homophobic content, Le Parisien reported.
The two groups, together with SOS Homophobie, said that on March 31 and May 10, they found 586 examples of such content. Only 4 percent of the content was deleted by Twitter, 7 percent by YouTube and 34 percent by Facebook, the groups said.
In 2013, the Paris Court of Appeals issued a landmark ruling forcing Twitter to block the hashtag #UnBonJuif — French for “a good Jew” — and to remove the thousands of associated anti-Semitic tweets that violated France’s law against hate speech.
The ruling was a turning point in the fight against online hate speech in France and beyond because it caused Twitter to abandon its policy of applying as little censorship as is permissible in the United States, where Twitter’s head office is based and where there are fewer limitations on free speech than in many countries in Europe.
YouTube has since permanently banned videos posted by Dieudonne, a French comedian with 10 convictions for inciting racial hatred against Jews.
In 2014, Facebook removed the page of the Holocaust denier Soral for “repeatedly posting things that don’t comply with the Facebook terms,” according to the company. Soral’s page had drawn many complaints in previous years.
Despite complaints of partial compliance on hate speech removal by the internet giants, European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor celebrated the accord Tuesday as “a historic agreement that could not arrive at a better time.” It is “very important” that governments and online companies “work in tandem to make the internet a safer space for all,” he said.
The president of the Conference of European Rabbis, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, was also optimistic, saying in a statement that “internet hate leads to a culture of fear. We hope that today’s announcement will be the first step in combating that culture.”