In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris last week, some European countries have jointly filed a statement calling on internet service providers to report certain content that “aims to incite hatred and terror”. As France moves to deploy soldiers on its home soil, these countries look to the web as a potential source for nipping such terrorist attacks in the bud, seeking help from the companies that deliver the internet.
The interior ministers of France, Latvia, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, the U.K., and Sweden met in Paris to put forth a joint condemnation of the attack that killed 12 people, and called for the “cooperation with all actors of our civil societies to prevent and detect radicalization in an early stage”. They single out the internet as an avenue for hateful, terrorist-leaning rhetoric, and call for content removal “where appropriate”:
We are concerned at the increasingly frequent use of the Internet to fuel hatred and violence and signal our determination to ensure that the Internet is not abused to this end, while safeguarding that it remains, in scrupulous observance of fundamental freedoms, a forum for free expression, in full respect of the law. With this in mind, the partnership of the major Internet providers is essential to create the conditions of a swift reporting of material that aims to incite hatred and terror and the condition of its removing, where appropriate/possible.
In one light, this statement looks like an urging for censorship, and in a sense, that is what it is. While few would deny the intended purpose of such a call to squash hateful speech, content removal is a dicey path to go down — one that European countries in particular have been wrestling with. Last year was the year of the “right to be forgotten” ruling that had Google scrambling to put together a rubric for removing content at the request of individuals and businesses. But these aforementioned countries have clearly intended for content removal to play a larger role in stemming hate crimes and similar violence:
…our action must continue to be part of a comprehensive approach, based on the fight against radicalization, notably on the Internet, and on the strengthening of resources to thwart the action of the different forms of terrorist networks and notably to hamper their movement.
While getting ISPs on board to censor the type of content cited here is the next big step for this effort, it has already begun in the U.K. GigaOm reported in November that some big ISPs have agreed to filter out “extremist” content, making it inaccessible to their web customers. Perhaps the next year holds even more providers in more countries getting on the content-blocking bandwagon.