ECJ: hate speech must be searched for and deleted

The European Court of Justice has placed stricter obligations on online services such as Facebook: under a new ruling the company can be forced by national courts not only to delete illegal comments, but also to actively search for and delete "identical" and - in certain circumstances - "equivalent" content worldwide. Is this the right way to fight hate speech?

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Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

Strengthening the principle of responsibility

The law is far-reaching but also pragmatical, the Süddeutsche Zeitung writes in praise:

“The ECJ even has no objections to the obligation to delete content worldwide. This means it is strengthening the principle of responsibility that has been taking shape over the past couple of years. In the past the platforms made excuses citing their supposed neutrality as technical service providers. However, it has been clear for some time now that insults and hate speech can only be curbed if social media operators are made more accountable.”

Der Standard (AT) /

An important step against intimidation

One group in particular will benefit from the ECJ's ruling, writes Der Standard:

“Very often, women are the target of virtual hate attacks. These hurt and traumatise and may lead to women no longer wanting to 'subject themselves' to public discourse. They withdraw, remain passive, don't get involved - and prefer to post photos of the latest sunset, the cat or their last candlelight dinner instead. This is a form of 'silencing', a deliberate gagging of 'awkward' or 'rebellious' women which is incompatible with European values. Facebook's role here to date has not been a glorious one.”

Financial Times (GB) /

Ruling endangers freedom of opinion

The Financial Times, on the other hand, is not happy with the decision of the European Court of Justice:

“When removing offending content, the court says platforms may use automated filtering systems to help them. This technology is expensive to create and operate, advantaging well-heeled Big Tech companies. The definition of 'equivalent' is also vague. Given the increasing pressure from regulators, platforms are likely to interpret the word more broadly than they might have before. ... Policymakers, regulators, and the courts should be wary of ill-planned interventions that risk doing more harm than good.”

Avvenire (IT) /

On the path to preventive censorship

Avvenire also doubts whether the ruling will really make the Internet a better place:

“Things aren't as simple as they appear. Because the only way Facebook can monitor in advance the huge amount of content that is published every minute on social networks is by setting up automated filters. At present, however, there is no artificial intelligence that can distinguish 'illegal content' from content that quotes such content in order to stigmatise it. Just as there is none that can understand irony, to say nothing of dialects. So the most likely result will be a rise in 'preventive censorship' that can potentially hit anyone at all.”