Why some free-speech advocates 'stand with hate speech'

The European Commission's announcement Tuesday of a new code of conduct against hate speech has raised concerns about political censorship. 

Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa/AP
Police spokesman Stefan Redlich presents confiscated phones, weapons, drugs, and computer during an April press conference in Berlin following a crackdown on social media hate speech postings. The European Commission's announcement Tuesday of a new code of conduct against hate speech has raised concerns about political censorship.

The European Union's new code of conduct aimed at curbing hate speech has some free speech advocates raising concerns of censorship.

Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook, and Google promised on Tuesday to police and remove what the European Commission has deemed a concerning rise in hate speech, but critics are raising ideological, political, and technical objections to the plan. 

"It seems these companies were given 'an offer they couldn't refuse,' and rather than take a principled stand, they've backed down fearing actual legislation," human rights advocate Jacob Mchangama, the director of Copenhagen-based think tank Justitia, told the Christian Science Monitor's Christina Beck earlier this week. "And of course, how will global tech companies now be able to resist the inevitable demands from authoritarian states that they also remove content that these countries determine to be 'hateful' or 'extremist'?"

The Daily Caller's Scott Greer suggests that government insistence on defining and punishing hate speech threatens the delicate principle of free speech by punishing differences of opinion.

"Those whom express views in line with the prevailing wind of popular opinion are not the ones who need the comfort of the First Amendment," he wrote in an editorial Thursday. "By instituting hate speech laws, the government declares itself the arbiter of what counts as hate speech, which means they are more likely to go after unwanted opinions."

The hashtag #IStandWithHateSpeech became a trending topic on Twitter, as free speech advocates insisted the dangers of censorship exceed those of the hate speech itself.

Janice Atkinson, a Member of the European Parliament, told Breitbart London the "Orwellian" policy could be used for political gain as Europe wrestles with difficult immigration problems.

"If an MEP, such as the centre-right Hungarians, the Danish People’s Party, the Finns, the Swedish Democrats, the Austrian FPO, say no to migration quotas because they cannot cope with the cultural and religious requirements of Muslims across the Middle East who are seeking refugee status, is that a hate crime? And what is their punishment?" Ms. Atkinson told Breitbart London. "It's a frightening path to totalitarianism."

Others have raised technical concerns, because the companies agree to review and remove hate speech within 24 hours, a process that privatizes the protection of free speech.

"The code requires private companies to be the educator of online speech, which shouldn't be their role, and it's also not necessarily the role that they want to play," Estelle Massé, EU policy analyst with the Brussels-based Access Now, told the Monitor.

Daphne Keller, the Stanford Center for Internet and Society's director of intermediary liability, told Buzzfeed that when in doubt of what to remove, these new hate speech police would err on the side of removing controversial – but legal – content for fear of government reprisals.

"They take down perfectly legal content out of concern that otherwise they themselves could get in trouble," Ms. Keller told Buzzfeed. "Moving that determination out of the court system, out of the public eye, and into the hands of private companies is pretty much a recipe for legal content getting deleted."

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