US tech giants like Facebook could face new EU laws forcing them to tackle hate speech

Why tech giants' attempt to curb hate speech may not be enough
Why tech giants' attempt to curb hate speech may not be enough

U.S. technology giants including Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, and Google's YouTube could face new laws forcing them to deal with online hate speech if they don't tackle the problem themselves, the European Commission warned.

In May, the four U.S. firms unveiled a "code of conduct" drawn up in conjunction with the Commission, the European Union's executive arm, to take on hate speech on their platforms. It involved a series of commitments including a pledge to review the majority of notifications of suspected illegal hate speech in less than 24 hours and remove or disable access to the content if necessary. Another promise was to provide regular training to staff around hate speech.

But six months on, the Commission is not happy with the progress. EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova has commissioned a report, set to be released later this week, which claims that progress in removing offending material has been too slow.

"In practice the companies take longer and do not yet achieve this goal. They only reviewed 40 percent of the recorded cases in less than 24 hours," a Commission official said.

"After 48 hours, the figure is more than 80 percent. This shows that the target can realistically be achieved, but this will need much stronger efforts by the IT companies."

Jaap Arriens | NurPhoto | Getty Images

The Commission said that it could introduce new laws to force the U.S. companies to act faster.

"If Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Microsoft want to convince me and the ministers that the non-legislative approach can work, they will have to act quickly and make a strong effort in the coming months," Jourova told the Financial Times in an interview on Sunday.

A spokesperson for the Commission confirmed the comments in an email to CNBC.

Jourova's report is not being released until Wednesday where it will be discussed with the various technology firms.

Facebook and Microsoft said they were not commenting on the report when contacted by CNBC. Twitter and Google have yet to respond when contacted by CNBC.

In the six months after the "code of conduct" was signed, there were 600 notifications to the tech firms regarding hate speech, according to a summary of the report seen by CNBC.

Of those, 316 were flagged up as requiring a response from the firms. Around 28 percent or 163 cases ended up in the removal of content. But 153 were not removed as the companies concluded that it was not in breach of legislation or their own community rules.

The report also noted difference in the removal rates in different member states which were as high as 50 percent in Germany and France, but just 4 percent in Italy.