* EU wants to harmonise how online hate speech is removed
* Online platforms not liable for content posted by users
By Julia Fioretti
BRUSSELS, April 22 The European Union is
considering legislative measures to harmonise how online
platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google
take down hate speech and incitement to violence, a
draft document seen by Reuters shows.
The proliferation of hate speech and fake news on social
media has led to companies coming under increased pressure to
take it down quickly.
In a draft policy paper, the European Commission says there
is a "high degree of variation in the approaches taken to
removal of illegal content - be it incitement to terrorism, hate
speech, child sexual abuse material, or infringements of
intellectual property rights".
"Such divergences may be justified in some cases (e.g. for
certain types of illegal content); but in other cases they
reduce the effectiveness of the system (e.g. by delaying the
removal of terrorist propaganda)."
The Commission says it may come forward with legislative
and/or non-legislative instruments by the end of the year to
address "legal fragmentation and uncertainty related to the
removal of illegal content by online platforms".
Germany last month unveiled a law which would fine social
media companies up to 50 million euros ($53.62 million) if they
fail to remove hate postings quickly, prompting concerns it
could threaten free speech.
Facebook, Twitter, Google's YouTube and Microsoft
last year agreed to an EU code of conduct to tackle online hate
speech within 24 hours, but were criticised by the Commission
for not being fast enough.
Companies say they are in a difficult position as they are
not liable for content posted on their platforms and not
required to actively monitor what goes up. However, they do have
to take down illegal content when notified.
The paper, which is a mid-term review of the Commission's
strategy to create a digital single market in Europe, says the
EU executive is exploring options to clarify the role of online
platforms without impinging on the liability exemption.
"The Commission considers that a more transparent and
predictable environment would create incentives for platforms to
adopt proactive measures to maintain a healthy online
An EU official said the Commission was considering adopting
a so-called "good Samaritan" principle whereby online platforms
would not be held liable for content if they actively searched
for illegal content on their websites, hoping this would make
companies more proactive.
The mid-term review should be adopted in May.
(Reporting by Julia Fioretti; editing by Andrew Roche)