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On illegal hate speech, EU lawmakers eye binding transparency for platforms

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It’s more than four years since major tech platforms signed up to a voluntary pan-EU Code of Conduct on illegal hate speech removals. Yesterday the European Commission’s latest assessment of the non-legally binding agreement lauds “overall positive” results — with 90% of flagged content assessed within 24 hours and 71% of the content deemed to be illegal hate speech removed. The latter is up from just 28% in 2016.

However the report cards finds platforms are still lacking in transparency. Nor are they providing users with adequate feedback on the issue of hate speech removals, in the Commission’s view.

Platforms responded and gave feedback to 67.1% of the notifications received, per the report card — up from 65.4% in the previous monitoring exercise. Only Facebook informs users systematically — with the Commission noting: “All the other platforms have to make improvements.”

In another criticism, its assessment of platforms’ performance in dealing with hate speech reports found inconsistencies in their evaluation processes — with “separate and comparable” assessments of flagged content that were carried out over different time periods showing “divergences” in how they were handled.

Signatories to the EU online hate speech code are: Dailymotion, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Jeuxvideo.com, Microsoft, Snapchat, Twitter and YouTube.

This is now the fifth biannual evaluation of the code. It may not yet be the final assessment but EU lawmakers’ eyes are firmly tilted toward a wider legislative process — with commissioners now busy consulting on and drafting a package of measures to update the laws wrapping digital services.

A draft of this Digital Services Act is slated to land by the end of the year, with commissioners signalling they will update the rules around online liability and seek to define platform responsibilities vis-a-vis content.

Unsurprisingly, then, the hate speech code is now being talked about as feeding that wider legislative process — while the self-regulatory effort looks to be reaching the end of the road. 

The code’s signatories are also clearly no longer a comprehensive representation of the swathe of platforms in play these days. There’s no WhatsApp, for example, nor TikTok (which did just sign up to a separate EU Code of Practice targeted at disinformation). But that hardly matters if legal limits on illegal content online are being drafted — and likely to apply across the board. 

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Commenting in a statement, Věra Jourová, Commission VP for values and transparency, said: “The Code of conduct remains a success story when it comes to countering illegal hate speech online. It offered urgent improvements while fully respecting fundamental rights. It created valuable partnerships between civil society organisations, national authorities and the IT platforms. Now the time is ripe to ensure that all platforms have the same obligations across the entire Single Market and clarify in legislation the platforms’ responsibilities to make users safer online. What is illegal offline remains illegal online.”

In another supporting statement, Didier Reynders, commissioner for Justice, added: The forthcoming Digital Services Act will make a difference. It will create a European framework for digital services, and complement existing EU actions to curb illegal hate speech online. The Commission will also look into taking binding transparency measures for platforms to clarify how they deal with illegal hate speech on their platforms.”

Earlier this month, at a briefing discussing Commission efforts to tackle online disinformation, Jourová suggested lawmakers are ready to set down some hard legal limits online where illegal content is concerned, telling journalists: “In the Digital Services Act you will see the regulatory action very probably against illegal content — because what’s illegal offline must be clearly illegal online and the platforms have to proactively work in this direction.” Disinformation would not likely get the same treatment, she suggested.

The Commission has now further signalled it will consider ways to prompt all platforms that deal with illegal hate speech to set up “effective notice-and-action systems”.

In addition, it says it will continue — this year and next — to work on facilitating the dialogue between platforms and civil society organisations that are focused on tackling illegal hate speech, saying that it especially wants to foster “engagement with content moderation teams, and mutual understanding on local legal specificities of hate speech”

In its own report last year assessing the code of conduct, the Commission concluded that it had contributed to achieving “quick progress”, particularly on the “swift review and removal of hate speech content”.

It also suggested the effort had “increased trust and cooperation between IT Companies, civil society organisations and Member States authorities in the form of a structured process of mutual learning and exchange of knowledge” — noting that platforms reported “a considerable extension of their network of ‘trusted flaggers’ in Europe since 2016.”

“Transparency and feedback are also important to ensure that users can appeal a decision taken regarding content they posted as well as being a safeguard to protect their right to free speech,” the Commission report also notes, specifying that Facebook reported having received 1.1 million appeals related to content actioned for hate speech between January 2019 and March 2019, and that 130,000 pieces of content were restored “after a reassessment”.

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On volumes of hate speech, the Commission suggested the amount of notices on hate speech content are roughly in the range of 17-30% of total content, noting for example that Facebook reported having removed 3.3M pieces of content for violating hate speech policies in the last quarter of 2018 and 4M in the first quarter of 2019.

“The ecosystems of hate speech online and magnitude of the phenomenon in Europe remains an area where more research and data are needed,” the report added.

TechCrunch

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Google December Product Reviews Update Affects More Than English Language Sites? via @sejournal, @martinibuster

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Google’s Product Reviews update was announced to be rolling out to the English language. No mention was made as to if or when it would roll out to other languages. Mueller answered a question as to whether it is rolling out to other languages.

Google December 2021 Product Reviews Update

On December 1, 2021, Google announced on Twitter that a Product Review update would be rolling out that would focus on English language web pages.

The focus of the update was for improving the quality of reviews shown in Google search, specifically targeting review sites.

A Googler tweeted a description of the kinds of sites that would be targeted for demotion in the search rankings:

“Mainly relevant to sites that post articles reviewing products.

Think of sites like “best TVs under $200″.com.

Goal is to improve the quality and usefulness of reviews we show users.”

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Google also published a blog post with more guidance on the product review update that introduced two new best practices that Google’s algorithm would be looking for.

The first best practice was a requirement of evidence that a product was actually handled and reviewed.

The second best practice was to provide links to more than one place that a user could purchase the product.

The Twitter announcement stated that it was rolling out to English language websites. The blog post did not mention what languages it was rolling out to nor did the blog post specify that the product review update was limited to the English language.

Google’s Mueller Thinking About Product Reviews Update

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller trying to recall if December Product Review Update affects more than the English language

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller trying to recall if December Product Review Update affects more than the English language

Product Review Update Targets More Languages?

The person asking the question was rightly under the impression that the product review update only affected English language search results.

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But he asserted that he was seeing search volatility in the German language that appears to be related to Google’s December 2021 Product Review Update.

This is his question:

“I was seeing some movements in German search as well.

So I was wondering if there could also be an effect on websites in other languages by this product reviews update… because we had lots of movement and volatility in the last weeks.

…My question is, is it possible that the product reviews update affects other sites as well?”

John Mueller answered:

“I don’t know… like other languages?

My assumption was this was global and and across all languages.

But I don’t know what we announced in the blog post specifically.

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But usually we try to push the engineering team to make a decision on that so that we can document it properly in the blog post.

I don’t know if that happened with the product reviews update. I don’t recall the complete blog post.

But it’s… from my point of view it seems like something that we could be doing in multiple languages and wouldn’t be tied to English.

And even if it were English initially, it feels like something that is relevant across the board, and we should try to find ways to roll that out to other languages over time as well.

So I’m not particularly surprised that you see changes in Germany.

But I also don’t know what we actually announced with regards to the locations and languages that are involved.”

Does Product Reviews Update Affect More Languages?

While the tweeted announcement specified that the product reviews update was limited to the English language the official blog post did not mention any such limitations.

Google’s John Mueller offered his opinion that the product reviews update is something that Google could do in multiple languages.

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One must wonder if the tweet was meant to communicate that the update was rolling out first in English and subsequently to other languages.

It’s unclear if the product reviews update was rolled out globally to more languages. Hopefully Google will clarify this soon.

Citations

Google Blog Post About Product Reviews Update

Product reviews update and your site

Google’s New Product Reviews Guidelines

Write high quality product reviews

John Mueller Discusses If Product Reviews Update Is Global

Watch Mueller answer the question at the 14:00 Minute Mark

[embedded content]

Searchenginejournal.com

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