Top EU Bureaucrat Predicts Hate-Speech Laws Coming to U.S.

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A top European Union bureaucrat on Tuesday predicted that laws prohibiting so-called hate speech, which have already been implemented across Europe, will soon be imposed in the United States.

“Illegal hate speech, which you will have soon also in the U.S. I think that we have a strong reason why we have this in the criminal law,” Věra Jourová, vice president for values and transparency at the European Commission, said at the World Economic Forum. The European Commission is the executive arm of the EU.

In December, a New York law, called the Social Media Hate Speech Accountability Act, went into effect, mandating that any social-media site that operates in the state must establish a public channel for users to report so-called hate speech. The legislation also obliges the platforms’ owners to respond directly to anyone who uses it, with a penalty of up to a $1,000 fine if they refuse.

Jourová was warning new Twitter CEO Elon Musk that the EU intends to crack down on the company’s compliance with European data-protection rules. “They apply to Twitter regardless of who owns it. Musk should not underestimate our efforts to make big platforms responsible,” she said, according to Euractiv.

“Regulators are already closely monitoring compliance with the applicable data protection rules, and we will be able to enforce the Digital Services Act later this year as well,” she added.

Twitter should be an international partner in combatting disinformation and illegal hate speech, Jourová suggested. “We need the platforms to work with the language to identify such cases.”

The panel, titled “The Clear and Present Danger of Disinformation,” featured progressive American public figures, such as former CNN correspondent Brian Stelter, chairman of the New York Times Arthur Gregg Sulzberger, and Democratic congressman Seth Moulton. The speakers aimed to answer the question: “How can the public, regulators and social media companies better collaborate to tackle disinformation, as information pollution spreads at unprecedented speed and scale?”

“This concept of preserving public safety, even under the banner of free speech, is actually something we’ve accepted for a long time. You get taught in grade school that, yes, you’re allowed free speech but not crying ‘fire’ in a crowded theater,” Moulton said.

The “fire in a crowded theater” analogy, often cited to justify speech restrictions, refers to a 1919 Supreme Court opinion, which argued that anti-war speech in wartime is like “falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.” However, the Court distanced itself from that reasoning decades ago and did not declare it a binding legal principle.

In late January, the European Commission will test the implementation of its 2022 Code of Practice on Disinformation, which sets specific commitments for participating platforms and industry leaders to counter online disinformation. Twitter has reportedly already signed onto the agreement. Other signatories include Google, TikTok, and Microsoft.

Signatories are asked to report on actions they took to enforce the policies of the code. “This could include, for instance, actions to remove, to block, or to otherwise restrict advertising on pages and/or domains that disseminate harmful Disinformation,” the policy reads.

Involved companies also need to scrutinize their advertisement placements in order to “reduce revenues of the purveyors of Disinformation.”

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