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Considering the Whole Ecosystem in Regulating Terrorist Content and Hate Online

15 16 0
18.09.2019

The last few years have seen a range of proposals to counter terrorist and extremist content online. From the European Commission’s Code of Conduct on Countering Illegal Hate Speech Online in 2016 and its 2018 proposed Regulation for preventing the dissemination of terrorist content online, to the introduction of the German Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG) in 2017, with a similar French law likely to be implemented soon, and the UK’s Online Harms White Paper in 2019, a range of strategies have been advanced. One recurrent idea is a requirement for faster removals, supported by large fines in the event of non-compliance, and the UK’s Online Harms White Paper proposed the creation of a new independent regulatory body.

This article is going to argue that there are two crucial considerations that require greater thought when putting forth proposals. The first is the enormous variation that exists between the social media platforms, file-sharing sites and instant messaging services that are being used, in terms of their capabilities and resources, as well as their motivations to comply. The second is the large variety of services these organisations supply and the finding that the platforms and sites are interconnected yet not used homogeneously. The concluding argument will be that the whole ecosystem requires consideration in future proposals.

The variety in size and resources

The first significant difference, which has an important impact on an organisation’s ability to counter terrorist and extremist exploitation of their sites, is its number of staff and revenue. For example, Facebook has 2.2 billion users, with almost 40,000 full-time employees. Thirty thousand of these work in safety and security with half employed as content reviewers globally. Although also considered a major platform, Twitter is a lot smaller with 126 million active daily users and 3,900 global employees, 1500 of whom work on policy enforcement of content moderation. Twitter, however, is enormous compared to many file-sharing sites and alternative platforms whose staff are often based in just one country. JustPaste.it, a file-sharing site that claims to have 5 million users, has been known to be managed solely by its creator Mariusz Zurawek. Gab, an alternative social media platform, is thought to have only a handful of employees and approximately 1 million users. Gab is an example of a platform that does not yet fall under Germany’s NetzDG law, since this only applies to organisations with 2 million registered users in Germany. The major social media platforms bring in large revenues from running advertisements on their sites, for example, in January 2019, Facebook reported ad revenue of $16.6 billion. JustPaste.it and Gab on the other hand, rely on the less stable strategies of selling premium accounts, and Gab also sell merchandise and accept donations. Therefore, some organisations have large global teams of employees ranging from safety and security experts to content reviewers, while others have very few, if any employees working on this specifically, and some organisations are dependent on keeping advertisers on their platform for revenue, with others reliant on their users for revenue. With this variation between organisations, it is likely that regulatory strategies will have to differ depending on the size and resources of the platform in question.

There are also significant differences in the organisations’ missions and values. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have stated consistently that they work to balance freedom of expression with the safety of their users. Facebook in particular argue that they will not retain their user-base and advertisers if their platform is not safe. They also state that whilst they have their own global policies – they follow local laws to prevent being blocked by authoritarian governments that would remove their services from whole populations who rely on them. The aim of JustPaste.it, on the other hand, is to provide “the quickest way to share text & images with other people” whilst offering a “high level of privacy for both writers and readers”. Finally, Gab was created with the aim of running a site powered by its users, with an emphasis on providing user privacy, and prides itself on its lack of censorship. Gab recently became a decentralised platform which makes it more resistant to content moderation efforts. While the major platforms assert that, in order for everyone to safely have a voice, some speech (particularly that aimed at protected groups) has to be regulated, alternative platforms such as Gab take the view that speech is not truly free where regulation exists.

Variation can also be seen across the policies these organisations have in place. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have already created and implemented technology that they claim proactively removes large volumes of........

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