A European Union official’s prediction that the United States would soon institute “illegal hate speech” laws at a Davos “disinformation” panel Tuesday raised some eyebrows online.
Věra Jourová, the vice president for “values and transparency” at the EU’s executive European Commission, indicated to a fellow panelist at the World Economic Forum that such policies were about to cross the ocean.
“What qualifies as hate speech, as illegal hate speech, which you will have soon also in the U.S.,” she said, directing her comments to fellow panelist Seth Moulton, a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts. “I think that we have a strong reason why we have this in the criminal law, we need the platforms to simply work with the language and to identify such cases.”
Jourová’s Davos panel was moderated by ex-CNN host Brian Stelter and called “The Clear and Present Danger of Disinformation,” with Moulton and New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger among the other participants.
Stelter was criticized by some figures online for not pushing back against Jourová – one conservative called her a “petty fascist.”
Conservative outlet The First also took a dig at Moulton for “silently smiling” as she made the remarks.
At another point, the Czech-born Jourová said she would never argue for the removal of hateful content online to counter disinformation. She said it was important to set up rules that couldn’t be abused, noting many of the requests for removing online content comes from elected officials.
Sulzberger referred to so-called disinformation as an “existential” threat to society during the panel, while Moulton said at another point that the Europeans were “way ahead of us” on data regulation, although he stipulated he believed “very strongly in free speech.”
“There is a healthy concern in the United States that you might be going a little too far,” he said.
The panel discussed the push and pull of efforts to counter so-called misinformation and disinformation while avoiding censorship and having arbiters declaring universal truths. Jourová herself noted at one point that inconvenient truths for politicians did not constitute misinformation, a point often made by conservatives stateside who bristle at liberals flatly declaring certain viewpoints to be inherently false.
How criminalizing “hate speech,” or even defining what it is, would be a fraught issue for lawmakers like Moulton, given the wide berth of the First Amendment.
“Hatred not only affects the individual victims, it represents a threat to vibrant democracies and a pluralistic society,” it states on the EU’s website about its legal and policy framework for “combating hate speech and hate crime.”
National Review reported that the European Commission, later this month, will test implementation of its 2022 Code of Practice on Disinformation, which sets up “commitments for participating platforms and industry leaders to counter online disinformation.” Twitter, Google, Microsoft and TikTok have reportedly signed onto the agreement, NR reported.
Jourová made headlines last month for ripping Elon Musk for the temporary suspension of several journalists from Twitter.
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