Some of Europe’s leading politicians and academics have warned tech companies to play a more active role in countering hate speech, at a summit in Monaco.
The session, entitled Responding to the Challenges of the Digital Revolution, brought figures from across Europe’s political spectrum to the principality to discuss how best to combat hate speech, which has become a seemingly unstoppable byproduct of today’s connected world.
Half the world’s population is online at any one moment, and 400 hours of content is uploaded to YouTube each minute. The notion these rapidly expanding worlds can effectively be monitored is utopian and unrealistic. Instead debate in Monaco focused on ways to incentivize or punish ISPs and tech giants like Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon – known in Europe by the acronym GAFA – which have increasingly been at odds with Brussels lawmakers over the past few years.
Twitter’s new “time-out” scheme, in which abusers are prevented from posting for increasing amounts of time, is “for the first time measuring recidivism,” said American professor Susan Benesch, who has devoted her work to countering hate speech.
“Tech companies don’t base content on law but inside guidelines are private,” added Benesch, who prefers the more narrowly definable terms “dangerous” or “harmful” speech to “hate speech”. “People follow rules they know much better. We need to build windows in that black box.”
The session was part of a day-long event entitled Tackling Extremism and Intolerance in a Diverse Society, hosted by the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation (ECTR). Speakers included former British prime minister Tony Blair and Moshe Kantor, ECTR president and chairman of the European Jewish Congress. During the event Prince Albert II of Monaco was awarded the 2018 Medal of Tolerance for his “exceptional personal leadership and inspiration to advance truth, tolerance and historical reconciliation.”
Current European policy has centered on pulling content deemed offensive or dangerous – something Britain claims to have perfected with a newly developed machine learning algorithm it says can detect ISIS propaganda before it is uploaded.
But deleting content alone is “nowhere near sufficient,” said Benesch. Pulling content should not be “a substitute for deeper divisions and societal racism,” added Luxembourgish politician Anne Brasseur, adding that it is the task of European leadership to “tackle intolerance in people’s hearts and minds.”
The day’s efforts to bring dissenting political voices produced some heated moments. Polish journalist Konstanty Gebert argued that vetting groups to give alternative viewpoints to hate speech, similar to Wikipedia, could result in more productive dialog.
Yet French politician Rachida Dati argued that Europe’s leaders have “kept our eyes closed” to radicalism present long before the September 11 attacks in New York City. Dati, who is a Member of the European Parliament, also issued a broadside to Silicon Valley’s biggest players: “We have to pass more laws…they’re not paying many taxes but they are responsible for radicalization.”