TikTok joins Europe’s code on tackling hate speech

TikTok, the popular short video sharing app, has joined the European Union’s Code of Conduct on Countering Illegal Hate Speech.

In a statement on joining the code, TikTok’s head of trust and safety for EMEA, Cormac Keenan, said: “We have never allowed hate on TikTok, and we believe it’s important that internet platforms are held to account on an issue as crucial as this.”

The non-legally binding code kicked off four years ago with a handful of tech giants agreeing to measures aimed at accelerating takedowns of illegal content while supporting their users to report hate speech and committing to increase joint working to share best practice to tackle the problem.

Since 2016 the code has grown from single to double figure signatories — and now covers Dailymotion, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Jeuxvideo.com, Microsoft, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube.

TikTok’s statement goes on to highlight the platform’s “zero-tolerance” stance on hate speech and hate groups — in what reads like a tacit dig at Facebook, given the latter’s record of refusing to take down hate speech on ‘freedom of expression‘ grounds (including founder Mark Zuckerberg’s personal defence of letting holocaust denial thrive on his platform).

“We have a zero-tolerance stance on organised hate groups and those associated with them, like accounts that spread or are linked to white supremacy or nationalism, male supremacy, anti-Semitism, and other hate-based ideologies. We also remove race-based harassment and the denial of violent tragedies, such as the Holocaust and slavery,” Keenan writes.

“Our ultimate goal is to eliminate hate on TikTok. We recognise that this may seem an insurmountable challenge as the world is increasingly polarised, but we believe that this shouldn’t stop us from trying. Every bit of progress we make gets us that much closer to a more welcoming community experience for people on TikTok and out in the world.”

It’s interesting that EU hate speech rules are being viewed as a PR opportunity for TikTok to differentiate itself vs rival social platforms — even as most of them (Facebook included) are signed up to the very same code.

TikTok signing up comes a few months after it added its name to a similar EU initiative aimed at tackling the spread of online disinformation via a series of non-legally binding commitments.

The voluntary codes have proved popular with tech giants, given they lack legal compulsion and provide the opportunity for platforms to project the idea they’re doing something about tricky content issues — without the calibre and efficacy of their action being quantifiable.

The codes have also bought time by staving off actual regulation. But that is now looming. EU lawmakers are, for example, eyeing binding transparency rules for platforms to back up voluntary reports of illegal hate speech removals and make sure users are being properly informed of platform actions.

Commissioners are also consulting on and drafting a broader package of measures with the aim of updating long-standing rules wrapping digital services — including looking specifically at the rules around online liability and defining platform responsibilities vis-a-vis content.

A proposal for the Digital Services Act is slated before the end of the year.

The exact shape of the next-gen EU platform regulation remains to be seen but tighter rules for platform giants is one very real possibility, as lawmakers consult on ex ante regulation of so-called ‘gatekeeper’ platforms.

“Europe’s online marketplaces should be vibrant ecosystems, where start-ups have a real chance to blossom – they shouldn’t be closed shops controlled by a handful of gatekeeper platforms,” said EVP and competition chief, Margarthe Vestager, giving a speech in Berlin yesterday. “A list of ‘dos and don’ts’ could prevent conduct that is proven to be harmful to happen in the first place.

“The goal is that all companies, big and small, can compete on their merits on and offline.”

In just one example of the ongoing content moderation challenges faced by platforms, clips of a suicide were reported to be circulating on TikTok this week. Yesterday the company said it was trying to remove the content which it said had been livestreamed on Facebook.

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