By Marc Thibodeau

(Rough English Translation)

Pressure on social networks in Europe to restrict hateful content online is leading to the unnecessary removal of an alarming number of perfectly legal messages, denounces an American organization defending freedom of expression.

In a new study, researchers from The Future of Free Speech point out that more than 85% of messages removed from popular Facebook pages and YouTube channels in France, Germany and Sweden did not violate existing laws.

Jacob Mchangama, who heads the organization attached to Vanderbilt University, believes that the situation results from the adoption of severe regulatory measures which provide for costly fines for social networks relaying hateful content.

Rather than taking the risk of keeping contentious messages online while waiting to rule on their legality, social network operators are opting for caution and at the same time “dangerously” limiting freedom of expression, says Mr. Mchangama.

The researchers, he notes, chose to study European countries since the regulatory measures in place across the Atlantic are significantly more severe than those prevailing in North America, particularly in the United States, where the giants of Silicon Valley have broad legal protection in relation to the content circulating on their platforms.

Germany notably adopted a law in 2018 which gave companies in the sector 24 hours to remove any “manifestly illegal” content and up to seven days for less clear-cut cases. Fines of several million were planned for refractory companies.

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Jacob Mchangama is the Founder and Executive Director of The Future of Free Speech. He is also a research professor at Vanderbilt University and a Senior Fellow at The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE).