In the contemporary context, with the advanced development of social media, individuals are granted the opportunity to share their voices on multiple platforms, initially without any restrictions. Social media platforms have become a place that allows and supports opinion diversity as it is free for the community to form their arguments and judgments. It could be observed that our society has become more coherent with social media platforms as tools to connect and create a strong tie with each other. While acting as a place where freedom of speech is encouraged, social media has also shown the ability to allow some entities to share toxic information, namely illegal or hate speech. It has proven that social media while allowing a diverse range of voices, should also be managed cautiously in order to govern this toxic behavior of users. In this context, hate speech and illegal speech is being administrated by German law and Europe’s 2016 Code of Conduct on Countering Illegal Hate Speech Online. This essay would analyze the historical backgrounds, arguments surrounding the two online regulatory concepts, and also discuss the topic of illegal and hate speech in general.
Freedom of speech in any context, online or offline, should be encountered along with social norms. In other words, it should be embedded with our moral values and therefore, it is essential to detect and govern toxic behavior that violates society’s ethical standards. Individuals usually seek to share their opinions on social media platforms since it is a space where they could be dispatched from their real identity, therefore, motivates them to act very differently. For instance, on Reddit, individuals are provided with the opportunities to create multiple user accounts, which means users could easily commit hate speech numerous times since their identity could be renewed (Massanari, 2017). According to Gagliardone et al. (2015), online hate speech could be presented in a range of tensions, it could be the representation of conflicts between different social groups without mutual ideas, or it could be observed as the opportunities and challenges that the internet granted for our community. Additionally, it presents access to our fundamental rights, namely freedom of speech. According to Gillespie (2018), sometimes it could be very challenging to detect illegal and hate speech since there are no clear boundaries between what is observed as acceptable and what does not. This could be explained as illegal and hate speech is approached very distinctively in different cultures, some freedom of expression could be tolerated in some specific cultures, and not in others. A number of European countries, specifically Germany and France have then approached the topic of illegal and hate speech by banning specific forms of speech, not only due to its high potential to lead to harmful situations but also for their inherent toxic nature that could be endorsed to the society (Gagliardone et al., 2015). According to Wahl (2018), the Code of Conduct Countering Illegal Hate Speech has shown positive result with the assessment of 70% illegal and hate speech have been removed by social media enterprises after being notified by the NGOs. According to European Commission (2016), social media platforms, or could be referred to as IT Companies, including Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube have joined EU Internet Forum along with other social media enterprises in order to actively participate in claiming responsibility and promoting positive freedom of expression.
Illegal and hate speech have been defined as certain forms of expressing negative social phenomena such as racism and xenophobia, regulating hatred and violence towards a specific social group that could be based on their race, color, or religion (European Commission, 2016). Social media platforms and the European Commission have observed and recognized the harmful effects that hate speech could potentially impose on society, therefore, showing effort to respond to hateful online instances and interrelate illegal online hate speech. According to European Commission (2016), online hate speech not only affect the targeted social groups negatively but it also violates the freedom of speech of those who utilize social media platforms with non-discriminatory behavior as it potentially blocks their online participatory. With the agreed terms between social media platforms and the European Commission, social media platforms are entitled to certain public commitments that will ensure the effectiveness of the Code in preventing and eliminating toxic or discriminatory behavior online. One of the most symbolize terms is that IT Companies would review most of the valid notifications in order to remove in merely 24 hours and block access to these types of contents (European Commission, 2016). Another significant term is that social media platforms are actively taking responsibility in education and raising awareness among society through establishing clear terms in community guidelines. This would enable social media users to take a proactive role in detecting violating content, and in some cases, accepting that they are violating the terms. According to the Council of the European Union (2019), the Code has actively taken the role to request IT enterprises to regulate community standards that ban illegal and hate speech, along with effectively managing systems and teams that would review the reported content. This has shown result as the percentage of flagged content within the time frame of 24 hours has risen from 81% in 2018 to 89% in 2019. Importantly, it has been reported that IT companies are actively taking the role to provide regular training in order to deliver support to their content reviewers (Jourová, 2019).
Similarly, in another discourse, Germany Network Enforcement Act, commonly referred to as NetzDG law enforced in 2017 has also put a commitment for social media platforms to either remove or regulate hate speech within 24 hours with 50 million euro fines if companies fail to fulfill (Lomas, 2020). However, it has been observed that Germany Law – NetzDG has been utilized by large social media platforms to aid the state in collecting citizen’s databases without legitimate validation.