Safer Internet Day: Unia to collaborate more closely with European Commission

7 February 2017
Area of action: Internet
Grounds of discrimination: All grounds of discrimination

The discourse on the Internet is becoming coarser. In order to make it a safer and fairer environment, a number of bodies such as Unia and the European Commission are joining forces. ‘Surfers are no longer hiding their racist speech or xenophobia. They sometimes seem to be proud of it’, says Unia director Els Keytsman.

‘Starting in March, Unia will spend six weeks reporting to the European Commission on the hate speech that is removed from social media and the speed at which this is done’, explains Keytsman. By working together, Unia and other organisations from the European Union want to give an impetus to Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies to take hate speech off-line faster. ‘Those other European organisations also work in areas such as human rights, discrimination and racism on the internet.’

Evaluating the code of conduct

‘In the code of conduct against hate speech on the internet, social media companies promise the rapid removal of reported hate speech. With our help, the European Commission will be able to verify whether these companies are effectively doing this. The code of conduct cannot be a commitment in name only.’

In addition, it is important to Unia that Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms not only use their own in-house rules to determine whether or not a message is acceptable. ‘Those in-house guidelines are a good place to start, but Belgian and European laws are at least as important.’

Worrisome trend

‘In the meantime, the trend is hard to miss: cyberspace has become a place where insults are hurled back and forth freely. That much is clear from the reports being received by Unia. Finding the balance between criminal statements and freedom of speech is extremely important in our analyses’, explains Keytsman.

What is punishable by law?

‘In order to make that complex balance easier to understand, we are opening a page on our website that explains what kind of speech is a criminal offence and what is not. Not everything is a criminal offense. It is perfectly possible for shocking opinions or insults to be offensive without constituting incitement to hate, violence or discrimination,’ adds Keytsman.