Curbing Hate Online: What Companies Should Do Now

While a free and open internet creates immense social value, it can also be used to engage in hateful activities at a large scale.

Curbing Hate Online: What Companies Should Do Now

Demonstrators march in Charlottesville, Virginia, one year after the violent Unite the Right rally that left one person dead and dozens injured, August 2018 \ Getty/Logan Cyrus

Washington, D.C. — Today, the Center for American Progress, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Free Press, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, Color of Change, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, along with a coalition of more than 40 groups, announced the release of Change the Terms, a set of recommended policies for corporations to adopt and implement to reduce hateful activities on their platforms.

While a free and open internet creates immense social value, it can also be used to engage in hateful activities at a large scale. For example, white supremacist and other organizations inciting hate are using online platforms to organize, fund, recruit supporters for, and normalize racism, sexism, religious bigotry, and anti-LGBTQ and anti-immigrant animus, among other activities. This chills the online speech of the targeted groups, curbs democratic participation, and threatens people’s safety and freedom in real life.

While some companies are taking steps in the right direction to reduce hateful activities online, anti-hate provisions in most companies’ terms of service are not enough. To ensure that companies are doing their part to help combat hateful conduct on their platforms, organizations in this campaign will track the progress of major tech companies—especially social media platforms—to adopt and implement these model corporate policies and give report cards to these same companies on both their policies and their execution of those policies the following year.

The policies and the report, “Curbing Hate Online: What Companies Should Do Now,” shares what the organizations learned from meeting with experts on terrorism, human rights, and technology around the world, and includes recommended policies to help internet companies reduce hateful activities that are taking place on their platforms. These recommended policies are based on the online tools and information that are available today. It is important to note that policies and approaches for addressing hateful activities will need to change, as technologies, as well as uses, change and as a result of the lessons learned by internet companies and researchers who evaluate data on hateful activities online.

“Russian attempts to influence U.S. voters in the 2016 election entailed spreading hateful racist lies online and efforts to increase division based on race, ethnicity, and religion on major online platforms. And this past Friday, the U.S. Department of Justice brought its first criminal case over alleged Russian interference in the 2018 midterm elections,” said Henry Fernandez, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. “That’s why it is important that today, we are releasing these model corporate policies, because elections are both central to our democracy but also ground zero for attacks on democracy by those engaging in hateful activities online. We hope our model corporate policies provide guidance on this front for tech companies in future elections.”

“Social media platforms have a tremendous impact because of their ability to amplify extreme ideas from the fringes,” said Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project. “The Southern Poverty Law Center has documented how hateful rhetoric online can turn into violence in real life, including the tragic events that we saw unfold in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year. Internet companies must to do more to ensure that they are doing their part to combat extremism and hate and take the threat of hate and extremism on their platforms more seriously.”

“Coordinated online attacks by white supremacists have sparked violence in the offline world,” said Jessica González, deputy director and senior counsel at Free Press. “They also chill the online speech of those of us who are members of targeted groups, frustrating democratic participation in the digital marketplace of ideas and—even more importantly—threatening our safety and freedom in real life. Internet companies can no longer neglect how the hate speech of the few silences the voices and threatens the lives of the marginalized many.”

“When technology companies allow white supremacists and white nationalists to use their platforms to organize, fundraise, and terrorize black communities, they threaten the human rights of black people and undermine democracy,” said Brandi Collins, senior campaign director at Color Of Change. “Color Of Change has destabilized hate groups by holding tech companies accountable for their complicity in the proliferation of white supremacy. It is not enough for companies to apologize after incidents like last year’s Charlottesville rally and last week’s Proud Boys attacks. They must quickly, assertively, and proactively remove the forces who threaten our democracy by adopting and implementing these policies.”

Click here to read the report: “Curbing Hate Online: What Companies Should Do Now” by Henry Fernandez

The recommended corporate policies are included as the appendix in the report: “Appendix: Recommended Internet Company Corporate Policies and Terms of Service to Reduce Hateful Activities”