NASHVILLE, Tenn. May 28, 2024Digital regulations in France, Germany and Sweden could be stifling free expression on social media platforms, according to a new report by The Future of Free Speech at Vanderbilt University. The report, titled “Preventing ‘Torrents of Hate’ or Stifling Free Expression Online? An Assessment of Social Media Content Removal in France, Germany and Sweden,” analyzed comments removed from popular Facebook pages and YouTube channels. Legal experts classified between 87.5 percent and 99.7 percent of deleted comments as legally permissible in each country.

“Policymakers have justified sweeping digital content regulations citing the need to address ‘torrents of hate speech’ online,” said Natalie Alkiviadou, Senior Research Fellow at The Future of Free Speech and lead coordinator of the report. “However, our analysis finds that legal speech made up a staggering percentage of deleted comments. Broad policies like the German Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG) will soon be superseded by the more comprehensive Digital Services Act in the EU. As a result, even more legal speech will be inadvertently caught in the crosshairs as companies aggressively moderate their platforms to comply and avoid excessive fines.”

Additionally, the researchers found that over 56 percent of the removed comments were general expressions of opinion or statements without linguistic attacks, hate speech, illegal content, or spam. “Not only does legal speech make up most of the deleted comments, but a majority of those comments contain opinions on important issues,” Alkiviadou said. “The Internet cannot remain a bastion of open discourse when only the most innocuous speech passes through moderators.”

While the study could not determine whether the comments were removed by the platforms, channels, or other users, reports released by Meta reveal a high percentage of content moderation actions taken by the company itself. “Concerns over national security, misinformation and ‘hate speech’ have led governments to adopt blunt tools that sacrifice international principles of free expression,” Alkiviadou added. “While pursuing noble goals, our findings show that this legal environment will have the unintended consequence of prompting platforms to excessively moderate content out of an abundance of caution.”

The report also found that only 25 percent of the examined pages or channels publicly disclosed specific content moderation practices, potentially generating uncertainty among users unfamiliar with the applicable rules.

The Future of Free Speech partnered with Common Consultancy to conduct the statistical analysis and co-draft the report. Analyse & Tal provided a unique data-collection tool used to identify deleted comments across platforms. The report also relied on country-specific legal expertise from Ioanna Tourkochoriti (Baltimore Law School), Martin Fertmann (Leibniz-Institute for Media Research | Hans-Bredow-Institut) and Mikael Ruotsi (Uppsala Universitet).


About The Future of Free Speech

The Future of Free Speech is an independent, nonpartisan think tank located at Vanderbilt University working to restore a resilient global culture of free speech in the digital age through knowledge, research and advocacy. Learn more at and follow on FacebookX, and LinkedIn.

About Common Consultancy

Common Consultancy is a team of strategy advisors specializing in digital and social media. They believe that digital information flows change who we are and what we do and they believe that understanding how is the key to protect our freedom and democracy. Common Consultancy helps their customers thrive in the new digital reality.

About Analyse & Tal

The analytics firm Analyse & Tal specialises in quantifying complexity. They analyse complex issues like volunteering, digital communities, social measures as well as propaganda and spread of misinformation in social media. They find patterns and meaning in complexity, which is conveyed through careful and thorough analysis.

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