In this brief, ARTICLE 19 reviews the Code of Conduct on Countering Illegal Hate Speech Online (the Code of Conduct) that has been developed by the European Commission in collaboration with major information technology companies for its compliance with international standards on freedom of expression.
According to the European Commission, the Code of Conduct is the outcome of ongoing discussions between the European Commission and Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube (the IT companies) as well as civil society. It was initiated following the EU Colloquium on Fundamental Rights in October 2015 on ‘Tolerance and respect: preventing and combating Antisemitic and anti-Muslim hatred in Europe’ and the EU Internet Forum in December 2015. The Code of Conduct was published on 31 May 2016 in the wake of recent terrorist attacks in Europe and concerns among governments that social media is used by terrorist groups to ‘radicalise’ young people.
The Code of Conduct specifically refers to the Framework Decision on Combatting Certain Forms and Expressions of Racism and Xenophobia by Means of Criminal Law (Framework Decision) as the legal basis for defining illegal hate speech under the Code.
In this analysis, ARTICLE 19 reviews both the legal basis for the Code of Conduct (i.e. the Framework Decision), the Code itself and the process that led to its adoption, under international standards on freedom of expression. Since the European Commission highlighted that the Code of Conduct is a part of series of approaches to address the problem of “online hate speech,” we hope that the Commission will use this analysis in its future activities in this area. We also urge the IT companies and other stakeholders to consider these recommendations in their cooperation with the European Commission and others.