Should Tech Giants Police “Hate Speech” Online?

Category: Social-Networking

There’s a semi-serious adage in journalism: “For any headline that asks a question, the answer is ‘No.’” Test it against the headlines you see each day and you’ll find it’s uncannily accurate. “Can cell phones give you brain cancer?” No. “Is Comcast customer service improving?” No. So it should come as no surprise that the answer to my headline’s question is not “No.” It’s really, “Heck, NO!” Read on for the scoop…

Are Tech Companies Censoring You Online?

Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have joined (that is, “caved in to”) the European Commission in an agreement to implement a “code of conduct” that pledges the companies will remove or block any “hate speech” within 24 hours of its discovery on their Internet properties.

The European Commission considers its code of conduct to be binding upon all “IT companies” operating within the EU’s borders, not just the four social networking giants who have signed on to it officially. The code of conduct also requires IT companies to:

Develop internal procedures and staff training to implement the code; strengthen their partnerships with civil society organisations (CSOs) which will help in flagging content which promotes incitement to violence and hateful conduct; identify and promote independent ‘counter narratives’, ‘new ideas and initiatives, and support educational programs that encourage critical thinking’ with the Commission; and share best practices with other internet companies, platforms and social media operators.

Censoring Hate Speech on Social Media

That part about “partnerships with CSOs” and “educational programs” make my Spidey sense tingle, too. It appears that tech companies operating in the EU are now expected to kowtow to any hypersensitive special interest group that takes offense at anything. European citizens who disagree with a government policy, or hold a minority opinion on social issues may find themselves silenced or re-educated.

The idea of social networks developing “counter narratives,” meaning propaganda campaigns, in cooperation with the EU government’s effort to shape what people think and say is simply terrifying. Facebook manipulated the stories that appeared in nearly a million users’ Newsfeeds as long ago as 2011, to see what effect such manipulations had upon users’ behavior. When Facebook got caught, the backlash was so outraged that the company had to issue an abject apology.

"It is clear now (in October, 2014) that there are things we should have done differently," wrote Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer. Apparently, he and a lot of other tech execs have forgotten what was clear then! The EU’s code of conduct requires companies to do the same thing - manipulate or filter the information that users see in order to influence their behaviors.

Artificial Accountability

In related news, Facebook announced on June 2, 2016, its new, advanced artificial intelligence (AI) dubbed “DeepText.” This software system is supposed to be “near human” in its understanding of 20 languages and the contexts in which human remarks are made. In other words, DeepText is supposed to be able to tell when you’re just joking about a bomb and when you really have one in your carry-on bag, just by reading your Facebook posts.

Another use for DeepText is in comprehending when one person’s words may offend, alarm, or sadden another person. Facebook hopes that DeepText will enable it to flag “potentially hurtful” words before they appear in anyone’s newsfeed.

If that doesn’t make Americans fear for the First Amendment’s life, I don’t know what will. When it comes to freedom of speech, Facebook is arguably more important than Congress. If a Congresscritter votes for a law that we The People don’t like, we can vote to replace him with someone who represents our interests. But nobody at Facebook is accountable to us, The People, and governments can exert more powerful pressures on corporations than individuals can.

The Slippery Sloper is Getting Slicker

Last but not least, I am perturbed by the prospect of European standards of “free speech” creeping into the United States, just as some people are worried about Sharia law infiltrating our legal system. Europe has never had a First Amendment; it is considered normal, even desirable, for government to decide what kinds of speech can be punished. I don’t want that sort of thinking to become “normal” here. Do you?

Europe also lacks a Fourth Amendment, the one that safeguards U. S. citizens against “unreasonable” searches and seizures of their “papers and effects.” The Fourth Amendment is virtually eviscerated in the U. S. now, after decades of relentless attacks on it by police, prosecutors, judges and lawmakers. The latest devastating blow was delivered on May 31, 2016, by the full panel of judges on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Richmond, VA.

By an overwhelming vote of 12-3, the panel ruled that law enforcement does not need a search warrant to obtain all the information about you that your cellular service provider collects and stores. Research has shown that information can reveal a lot more about you than you may want anyone to know, e. g., where you live, where you work, when you travel, who you meet with, who you sleep with, and, of course, your physical location at any moment. None of this is protected by the Fourth Amendment, according to this unappealing court of appeals.

Well-justified fear of customer backlash has kept tech companies fighting for customers’ privacy rights here in the U. S. But in Europe, the same companies are collaborating with the EU government to not only censor speech but also to invade customers’ privacy. Once it’s done over there, it may well creep over here to infect tech executives’ thinking in the USA.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "Should Tech Giants Police “Hate Speech” Online?"

(See all 27 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Sidney
07 Jun 2016

I do not now nor never will want to see America become like Europe! That is a goal of the Americsn Liberal Agenda! We fought England to have Freedom and won that right! Millions of our Military Service folks have died for Europe & other nations in this world to have a similar Freedom - but they say no in many ways.

I believe that our Ameticsn Companies should tell EU to stick it and start to pull out of their countries until those Nations can no longer surperess the riots by their folks anf Europe cave into our ways of Freedom and Liberty!


Posted by:

Robert
07 Jun 2016

I have always said that Facebook is dangerous & it is, although I don't trust any company where you cannot reach the boss or CEO and send them a letter, many companies like Facebook are unaccountable and not to be trusted, its just that most folks haven't figured it out yet.
Deep text and rubbish like that can & will eventually take away our rights, it will be forced upon us and we will have to adhere to its set standards.
Be careful of what you sign up to with the EU, it is an insidious creeping cancer & its tentacles reach into all parts of daily life but you need to be about 70 years old to understand how dangerous it is, its a new form of communism being run by unelected faceless politicos in Brussels, with the strings pulled from Germany.
40 years ago England was conned into a trade partnership with 9 nations which morphed without our consent into a federation which makes our laws and has opened our borders, you also state that you don't want European standards of free speech well unfortunately Bob the EU has done away with the free speech in England which we have enjoyed for hundreds of years.
So do not sit back and let it happen as we did, start protecting your rights now, or it will be imposed on you by treacherous politicians.


Posted by:

Will Swim
07 Jun 2016

Scary stuff Bob. When are you going to write an article on disabling GPS on our phones? Disabling as in which wire's to snip or which chip to insert an ice pick into 😭


Posted by:

Gloria Huffman
07 Jun 2016

Bob, I'm with you 100%. Thanks for bringing up this crisis, which is being implemented via digital technology, which reaches into every brain and now turns it on and off like a faucet: "These words you can say, these words you can't say." When your cashless card is blocked at the grocery store because you've moved away from the party line, you'll modify your expressions in order to eat and function.

SamIamHis, very good: "'Little Boxes on the Hillside'. ... liberal/socialistic ideals as being the eventual vehicle that would usher it in." I see that the Russian bear of communism has long been riding into the United States on the Democratic donkey. (There was a Japanese World War II bear-on-donkey wind-up toy.) The fact that Bernie Sanders has young people in his thrall and has done so well in his bid to be president should signal "Imminent danger!"

Robert, I agree: "the EU, ... you need to be about 70 years old to understand how dangerous it is, its a new form of communism..." See the May 2005 memo by the Council on Foreign Relations on the North American Union, which explains our "illegal immigration" problem: the floodgates were intentionally opened in order to mix the populations of Mexico and the United States so as to erase the southern border. Canada's also in the NAU plan. The one man almost singlehandedly responsible for shepherding the Democratic flock to the present state of affairs in the U.S. is Robert Pastor. Read this *excellent* article about him and see quotes from the May 2005 CFR memo:

http://www.informationliberation.com/?id=13740


Posted by:

Pete
07 Jun 2016

I have no problem with limited regulating of what is posted. Freedom comes with responsibility, if you are bullying, threatening, inciting to violence, lying, then you should have your rights to freedom of speech curtailed. Vulgar and vitriolic speech isn't meant to encourage and stimulate free speech, it is meant to stop it. Proudly a Liberal, proudly anti Trump who is a perfect example of one who uses vulgar, vitriolic speech and lying to try to stop freedom of speech from others.


Posted by:

GeneH
07 Jun 2016

Thank you! A well written, insightful article on the spreading threat to free speech. Several law enforcement actions in the UK and then the German government's approval of possible prosecution of a German citizen for allegedly insulting a foreign head of state have shown how cowed the EU has become. A few years ago I was stunned to discover that the Organization for Islamic Cooperation had office space in the U.S. Department of State on C Street NW in Washington, DC. That organization definitely opposes free speech, and the U.S. Government provides it office space!


Posted by:

Jim1
07 Jun 2016

All the shouting, and unsteadiness, lack of knowledge expressed here, leaves me wondering. First, members of the UE have a right to set their own policies regarding what can and cannot be said on social media, etc. That's their business, and if you don't want to play in their ball park, then don't pick up a ball and bat. Our Constituti0n, I would think, is based on civility, a belief that the terms of the document apply to those, all those, who can be civil in the exercise of their guaranteed rights. For example: I can't see media bullying to the point where the receiver of that verbal bullying, thinks that death is better than the struggle to go on living. That's happened, as we know. It's also not at all appropriate when the foulest of language is used on social media. And, here is more, but suffice it to say, the guarantees of those sacred documents we call Bill of Right, etc., were not meant to be abused, and nowadays, they certainly are, and in spades!


Posted by:

Judyth
07 Jun 2016

Frankly, though I'm a great believer in freedom of expression, I am also a believer in obeying the law of the land unless there is a very good reason for civil disobedience. The laws of the United States do not automatically apply to other nations: citizens of EU member states (which are democracies) get to have their laws respected, too.
In Canada where I live, there are laws against uttering threats, incitement to riot, and defamation --which I believe are also illegal in most if not all US states ... which are routinely violated by some people on social media and elsewhere.
I dare say it's "unAmerican" of me to think that providers of online platforms should be concerned and take action when, for example, an ISIS operative tells followers to go out and kill as many people as possible, or rabid racists harass Jews or Blacks with threats of the "death to all of you" variety, or sick individuals advocate raping a female reporter for doing her job. I'm no fan of algorithms designed to remove anything that might be vaguely offensive to somebody but I do believe Twitter is right to delete identified ISIS accounts and suspend or delete postings that cross from offensive to threatening.
Obviously, it is up to EU member states to decide where the legal line is drawn, at which point technology companies should decide whether or not they wish to do business with those countries. They already make those decisions when dealing with non-democratic countries; why should democracies be respected less?


Posted by:

Doug
07 Jun 2016

European standards of “free speech” are not creeping into the United States: it's a full-on gallop!! If your opinion differs from someone else, they take "offense", complain and your opinion becomes "hate".


Posted by:

James
08 Jun 2016

Coming to an America near you, Digital Facism. Europe is just the canary in the mineshaft.


Posted by:

Timbo
08 Jun 2016

Bottom line?...Social media, and specifically Facebook, is an enemy of the U.S. Constitution.
Any content-ie-photos, video, and intellectual property becomes theirs the second it is posted.
Read their Terms.
Furthermore, this AI prog Facebook is running will build intelligence and, no doubt, eventually be able to essentially read one's mind via predictive algorithms.


Posted by:

Jim
08 Jun 2016

Rules like these are part of every organization on the Internet that allows you to post on their site. And despite waving the First Amendment around like a Salvation Army banner the bare bones is that this has no more to do with the First Amendment than the flapping of seagull wings has to do with the rise of ocean tides. Cherry picking a sentence or a few words out of context from the First Amendment and claiming that y'all got yer free speech is downright silly.
The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law (by Congress) respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble, or prohibiting ...
But 'Free Speech does not come with the freedom of consequences to what was spoken. I may personally dislike Klingons. I may even hate Klingons. But I certainly cannot post to Facebook that this weekend I am arranging for a gang of my fellow Klingon haters to to meet outside their social club and beat them all with bats as the come out of it.
You don't own your Facebook page. Facebook owns it. They let you use it to post stuff on. Their page. Their rules. (See code of conduct.) Even Bob here has rules:

YES... spelling, punctuation, grammar and proper use of UPPER/lower case are important! And please limit your remarks to 3-4 paragraphs. If you want to see your comment posted, pay attention to these items.

All comments are previewed, and may be edited before posting.

These rules are infringing upon so-called free speech? If I don't follow these rules my speech may not be seen on Bob's comment section.


Posted by:

Bart
08 Jun 2016

The ability to spew hatred and threats in social media helps to normalize this behavior, which is not really in our interest. There are numerous examples of this behavior causing harm.

Restricting the ability to write something in social media is not the same as punishing someone for writing it. Social media is not government owned or operated. The companies make the rules. If you don't like it, don't use it. You can still express yourself by talking, putting up posters, giving out pamphlets etc.


Posted by:

Bart
09 Jun 2016

You edit what appears in the comments on your site. How is that different from social media sites doing the same thing?

EDITOR'S NOTE: It's different because no heavy-handed government or "civil society organisation" is telling me what I can or cannot publish.


Posted by:

Dwight Simmons
09 Jun 2016

I disagree with you on this one. If my name is associated with a site, either because I own it or sponsor it, I am very concerned about my image. I would not want my name or reputation associated with some of the vile comments that are posted online sites. If I owned the site, I would not allow people to post any comments. Most are inane and add nothing to the discussion. Now, Look at Bob Rankin's site. He edits and censors comments. Why? Because he doesn't want his site hijacked by flame wars, spam, or political commentary. He wants to keep the discussion on track and on his terms. His site - his rules. You want to say what ever you wish? Buy an add or start your own site.


Posted by:

Keith Freeman
09 Jun 2016

This is but one reason why a lot of Brits will be voting to leave the EU (whether enough or not can't be forecast at the moment).

Other point is how are the "responsible" companies going to be able to check content (of private conversations) when things like Signal are coming? As far as I can see they are not limiting the responsibility to only public sites, but maybe I'm wrong on that.

I've no connection with Signal by the way.


Posted by:

Judyth
09 Jun 2016

Some here may be interested in an article that discusses what "hate speech" means and what Twitter is actually doing about it:
https://m.mic.com/articles/144228/echoes-exposed-the-secret-symbol-neo-nazis-use-to-target-jews-online#.6gwiyhXz1
We're not talking about the freedom to say "you're an idiot" to somebody you don't like (rude and pointless as that may be) but about the kind of thing that is at *best* meant to intimidate a targeted person into silence and at worst is a warning that serious physical harm will follow.
The article doesn't go into the issue of terrorism per se, but it's hard for me to see deliberate incitements to followers to harm people for racial, ethnic or religious differences as anything else -- whether it's by ISIS or Al Qaeda or something as American as fans of the KKK. Quite apart from the Terms of Service question, there are laws about threats and incitement of violence in the US as well as the EU.


Posted by:

RandiO
09 Jun 2016

[IMHO]What is urgently needed is a "Digital Bill of Rights"
In the interim, I would like to refer you to the following:
"During a speech for the launch event of their new Jini technology on 25 January 1999, Sun Microsystems' CEO Scott McNealy addressed a group of reporters/analysts and stated that consumer privacy issues are a "…red herring." Adding that "You have zero privacy anyway," and "Get over it."
Sadly, McNealy's comments came only hours after competitor Intel reversed course under pressure and disabled identification features in its forthcoming Pentium III chip."


Posted by:

Darcetha Manning
09 Jun 2016

Posted by:

Dwight Simmons
09 Jun 2016
I disagree with you on this one. If my name is associated with a site, either because I own it or sponsor it, I am very concerned about my image. I would not want my name or reputation associated with some of the vile comments that are posted online sites. If I owned the site, I would not allow people to post any comments. Most are inane and add nothing to the discussion. Now, Look at Bob Rankin's site. He edits and censors comments. Why? Because he doesn't want his site hijacked by flame wars, spam, or political commentary. He wants to keep the discussion on track and on his terms. His site - his rules. You want to say what ever you wish? Buy an add or start your own site.

Posted by:

Jim
08 Jun 2016
Rules like these are part of every organization on the Internet that allows you to post on their site. And despite waving the First Amendment around like a Salvation Army banner the bare bones is that this has no more to do with the First Amendment than the flapping of seagull wings has to do with the rise of ocean tides. Cherry picking a sentence or a few words out of context from the First Amendment and claiming that y'all got yer free speech is downright silly.
The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law (by Congress) respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble, or prohibiting ...
But 'Free Speech does not come with the freedom of consequences to what was spoken. I may personally dislike Klingons. I may even hate Klingons. But I certainly cannot post to Facebook that this weekend I am arranging for a gang of my fellow Klingon haters to to meet outside their social club and beat them all with bats as the come out of it.
You don't own your Facebook page. Facebook owns it. They let you use it to post stuff on. Their page. Their rules. (See code of conduct.) Even Bob here has rules:
YES... spelling, punctuation, grammar and proper use of UPPER/lower case are important! And please limit your remarks to 3-4 paragraphs. If you want to see your comment posted, pay attention to these items.
All comments are previewed, and may be edited before posting.
These rules are infringing upon so-called free speech? If I don't follow these rules my speech may not be seen on Bob's comment section.

Both of these posters make valid points that I agree with.


Posted by:

Michel.D
14 Jun 2016

Feeble minded people like that man who killed 50 gays and maimed an other 50 in that Orlando club are probably under the influence of "free speech" from internet.
It is smart "free speech" propagande that feed the ranks of terrorism. Though I wholly believe in freedom, I also believe that, within reason, a raisonnable control of "free speech" is required in view of the average intellectual level of our world population. Counter propaganda is probably a better weapon than technological warfare. Wake up, Idealistic thinking leads nowhere, ask the middle-age Russians !


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