EU combats terrorism on social media but radicalism endures

Hopefully, the European public will not only discuss terrorism but also theoreticians of violence, rabble rousers and populists.
Sunday 23/06/2019
Far-right protesters shout slogans against the arrival of migrants at the Catholic Church centre ‘Mondo Migliore’ in Rocca di Papa, near Rome, last August. (AFP)
Many faces of radicalism. Far-right protesters shout slogans against the arrival of migrants at the Catholic Church centre ‘Mondo Migliore’ in Rocca di Papa, near Rome, last August. (AFP)

After the horrific New Zealand mosque shootings, the first of which was live streamed on Facebook, the European Union accelerated approval of legislation that requires internet companies to take down terrorist content within an hour of receiving notification from authorities.

By “terrorist content,” the European Union refers to material that “incites or solicits… terrorist offences, provides instructions… or solicits the participation in activities of a terrorist group” as well as content providing guidance on how to make weapons for terrorist purposes.

The text has yet to be further negotiated among lawmakers and EU members before becoming law but so much is known that companies, which systematically and persistently fail to abide by the law, may be sanctioned with up to 4% of their global turnover.

The EU initiative is controversial and has many critics. In its criticism of the legislation, European Digital Rights group argued the text of the law “looks nice” but it “runs the severe risk of undermining freedoms and fundamental rights online without any convincing proof that will achieve its objectives.”

In the same line of argument, more than 40 companies and advocacy groups drafted an open letter in February warning against “content filtering gone awry.” Among other cases, the authors pointed to the Syrian Archive, a civil society organisation preserving evidence of human rights abuses in Syria, whose videos were deleted by YouTube. While the Syrian Archive uploaded the videos to document human rights violations in Syria, technical filters, blind to the context, deleted them as dissemination of extremist materials.

The European Union’s vigilance concerning terrorism and over-vigilance of companies such as YouTube stand in stark contrast to general political radicalism, which is thriving among some of its members.

The Danish daily Berlingske Tidende released a video, produced by Rasmus Paludan, leader of the newly established Stram Kurs (“Hard Line”) party in Denmark. Posing with the Manhattan skyline in the background, Paludan argues:

“Terrorist killing of more than 2,000 people [on September 11, 2001] was perpetrated by Muslims because they [the perpetrators] were Muslims. Because they were good Muslims. Because they were abiding by the Quran and following the words of the Prophet to the letter. This is what Islam is: Killing, humiliation, rape, vandalism and debasing non-Muslims… The best thing of course, is if there is not a single Muslim left on dear [planet] earth. I hope this happens one day, at which point we will have achieved our final goal.”

Paludan’s party doubtlessly represents the fringes of Danish politics and one ought not to pay too much attention to such types but how come YouTube, which feels compelled to censor videos documenting human rights violations in Syria, does not prohibit calls for “final solution” to what the populist right perceives as Europe’s Muslim problem?

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