How effectively do social media platforms remove hate speech?

The overall responsiveness of social media platforms and the removal rate of illegal hate speech are low, shows the Shadow Monitoring and Reporting Exercise conducted in winter by partners of project OpCode. It also suggested that there are large differences between the countries monitored – Estonia, Romania, Spain, Slovakia and Poland.

Facebook has proven to be the most responsive and efficient social platform, especially with reports submitted from Estonia, Romania and Slovakia. Twitter and YouTube were the least responsive platforms in assessing hate speech reports.

The clear recommendation is: IT companies should dedicate supplementary resources to monitor and reduce hate speech, especially in countries that are dealing with socio-political contexts that fuel radicalization and extremism.

The results of the study

Project partners submitted 302 reports of potential harmful and illegal content. Almost 67% (201, absolute value) of the reports were submitted on Facebook. Only 168 (representing 56% of total reports) of reported contents received a clear feedback of removal or non-removal from the social media platforms. It is worth mentioning that 155 of the assessed reports were reviewed within a 24 hours time frame.

As for removal rate, 81% (136) of the assessed contents was removed by the social platforms. Facebook has been the most efficient and responsive platform as 134 of the 136 removed contents were removed from this platform. In contrast, Twitter and YouTube have shown little to no interest in assessing submitted reports on hate speech grounds.

The lowest performance in terms of responsiveness within social platforms were met in Spain and Poland. In Poland, where 80 reports out of 100 were not reviewed during the monitoring period.

Hate speech against different minorities in different countries

In Estonia, most of the hate messages are calling for violent acts and limiting of the rights of refugees or of sexual minorities. In Poland, most of the antisemitic content consists in degrading and stereotypical expressions against the Jewish community, while most of the homophobic messages claim limitations of rights for the members of LGBTQ community. In Romania, most of the hate messages targeting Roma community are calling for murder/annihilation or violent actions against this group or its members. In Slovakia, most of the hate messages targeting Roma community or refugees are using degrading expressions against its members or they are calling for murder/annihilation of these groups. In Spain, most of the xenophobic messages are using degrading and defamatory expressions against individuals or groups perceived as not being national.

Country-specific challenges

The monitoring exercise in Estonia did not offer big challenges and rather corresponded with earlier findings from other similar projects. In the case of Facebook, the removal rate continues to be very high, they also respond quickly and have much stricter rules on hate speech than the Estonian legislation. Other social media platforms have much lower interaction and removal rate.

The biggest challenge in Poland seems to be convincing the social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to react and remove reported illegal and hateful contents. The vast majority of reported cases were not removed, nor was any notification about the assessment of those cases received. If the companies begin to react properly, it will make a huge impact on limiting the spreading of hate speech online.

During the monitoring exercise in Romania no particular challenges were met, as the response and removal rate were very high. It is worth mentioning that YouTube has not yet developed a communication system that would notify users when they report various contents.

In Slovakia, no special challenges were met during the monitoring, because the response and removal rates were very high, especially for Facebook responses. On other monitored social platforms such as Twitter, Youtube and Instagram there is a much lower interaction rate and therefore a lower recorded incidence of hate speech. The reason for the lower incidence of hate speech is also that Twitter is mostly used by people as politicians, journalists and artists while Instagram is mostly used to publish personal photos and images.

During the monitoring in Spain, certain difficulties were met in finding actual and clear illegal contents based on the premises of the criminal law. It might be due to the fact that hate speech has been on public debate for years. There is a network of prosecutors of hate crimes and criminal law is very strict on that. It is worth noting, that criminals who want to spread intolerance have learnt to avoid law using deliberating ambiguous drafting.

The aim was to check that the principles of hate speech removal are followed

From January 20 to February 29, OpCode project partners conducted the first Shadow Monitoring and Reporting Exercise of illegal hate speech on social media platforms. The goal of this joint activity is to verify social media platforms’ Code of Conduct compliance in various periods of time when IT companies are not scrutinized by European Commissions’ official Monitoring Exercises. Within this shadow monitoring exercise, partners used the same monitoring and reporting methodology that is being used by European Commission.

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