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Tech firms ‘must be held accountable for removing online hate speech’

Houses of Parliament

Social media companies must be held accountable for removing extremist and terrorist propaganda hosted on their networks, according to UK MPs.

The ‘Hate crime: abuse, hate and extremism online’ report produced by the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee highlights the need for social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and YouTube to take responsibility over inappropriate content published on their platforms.

“If social media companies are capable of using technology immediately to remove material that breaches copyright, they should be capable of using similar content to stop extremists re-posting or sharing illegal material under a different name,” the report reads.

Queen’s Speech outlines UK government proposal for ‘new digital charter’

Additionally, the Committee explains it believes the government should now assess whether the continued publication of illegal material and the failure to take reasonable steps to identify or remove it is in breach of the law.

The report also says the government should decide how the law and enforcement mechanisms should be strengthened in this area.

‘Insufficient efforts’

Currently, the report notes, social media companies rely on users to report inappropriate content for it to be reviewed by moderators.

Essentially, this means companies are outsourcing the vast bulk of their safeguarding responsibilities at zero expense.

“We believe that it is unacceptable that social media companies are not taking greater responsibility for identifying illegal content themselves.

“In the UK, the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit (CTIRU) monitors social media companies for terrorist material. That means that multi-billion pound companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter are expecting the taxpayer to bear the costs of keeping their platforms and brand reputations clean of extremism,” the report says.

Although the Committee said it recognised that many tech companies including Google, Facebook and YouTube, had considered the impact that online hate can have on individuals, it concluded that more needs to be done to combat the issue.

“We welcome the effort that has been made to reduce such behaviours on social media, such as publishing clear community guidelines, building new technologies and promoting online safety, for example for schools and young people. However, it is very clear to us from the evidence we have received that nowhere near enough is being done.

“The biggest and richest social media companies are shamefully far from taking sufficient action to tackle illegal and dangerous content, to implement proper community standards or to keep their users safe. Given their immense size, resources and global reach, it is completely irresponsible of them to fail to abide by the law, and to keep their users and others safe,” it adds.

The report comes after UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd held meetings with several technology firms to urge them to do more to combat terrorism after last month’s terrorist attack in London’s Westminster.

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