The European Union has made a “big improvement” in motivating social media giants to combat antisemitism on their platforms, EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Vera Jourova told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
Jourova spoke to the Post leading up to her visit to Israel that begins on Thursday and ends next week as part of the 11th EU-Israel seminar on Combating Racism, Xenophobia and Antisemitism.
While noting that “antisemitism is on the rise in Europe,” she said the EU was trying to stop this “with a code of conduct which information technology companies adopted,” obligating them to “swiftly take down hate speech online and on social media.”
Facebook, Twitter and YouTube (run by Google) are all signed on to the initiative.
Next, she was asked about claims that the EU and social media giants often look the other way when antisemitic posts are dressed up as anti-Israel posts to make them look like political speech.
She said, “We try hard to push information technology companies to push back against posts supporting killing or injuring Jews. I have never heard criticisms that we would not protect Israel or some specific state.”
Jourova added, “Lawyers and experts have to consider that this hate speech can incite real violence in the real world,” noting they need to review their “criteria about whether to take it down or not. It’s on them to do it. I can only” hope they will remove xenophobia and other content that is “prohibited by law.”
The EU justice minister, a former Czech minister for regional development, emphasized that “freedom of speech is a priority…, but it is not beyond the rule of law.”
She said that her work had shown that initially, social media platforms were “not very systematic in their approach to notifications” they received about hate speech online.
“So we discussed with IT providers to take it very seriously” and to follow-up on “notifications wherever they come from,” as well as “to respond to those who notify regarding what has been done with the notification,” she said.
According to the EU’s recent report, “the IT companies committed in particular to reviewing the majority of valid notifications of illegal hate speech in less than 24 hours and to removing or disabling access to such content.”
Although an earlier report found more modest progress by social media, the recent report found that “in 59% of the cases, the IT companies responded to notifications concerning illegal hate speech by removing the content. This is more than twice the level of 28% that was recorded six months earlier.”
Furthermore, “the amount of notifications reviewed within 24 hours improved from 40% to 51% in the same six-month period. Facebook is however the only company that fully achieves the target of reviewing the majority of notifications within the day,” said the report.
As for counterterrorism cooperation, Jourova said Israel and the EU could help each other “because we face the same challenges in… digital space and with evidence. Some terror attacks could be under preparation… and is it hidden in the cloud or in other places.”
Two specific areas she hopes to work on with Israel are forging an agreement between the Eurojust’s agency and Israel to enhance law enforcement cooperation and in the sphere of countering terrorism financing.
“According to our intelligence, financial transfers usually are the first indication that something is being prepared,” she said, while qualifying that this did not help combat “lone wolf” terrorism.
She was asked to address the gap between the US, Israel and other nations that have pushed for the balance between security and human rights to be closer to security than in Europe, which still places greater emphasis on privacy rights.
The EU justice minister said, “I am the one who negotiated… the legal conditions for transferring private data from Europe to the US” after the Edward Snowden fallout showed the US had not met EU privacy standards. “The emphasis of security in the US is somewhat higher than the protection of privacy, while in Europe we are still more sensitive about this.”
Pressed about signals that some European countries recently hit by terrorism may move closer to the US/Israeli approach, she said, “Obviously there is some kind of increased demand for security now in Europe, which means people say, ‘Yes, we are willing to give up part of our freedom,’ but again it must be limited and we must be very vigilant lest it go to far.”
Regarding the new cyber and “fake news” threat to European elections, she said, “I don’t even think that it has a technical solution.
It must be counteracted by educating people not to be impacted by fake news from the computer and we must intensify active defenses against” these phenomena.
In the area of gender equality, she said that her conversations with Israeli officials would focus on measures to protect women from violence and to block gender discrimination in the field of developing technologies.
Jourova pointed out that she previously visited Israel in 1998, celebrating the state’s 50th birthday.
On this trip she will meet with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel, speak at a Tel Aviv University cyber conference and visit Yad Vashem.