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Politics – Freedom of speech threatened

August 2016

A new European Union (EU) agreement with major internet providers would have ‘a chilling and damaging effect on freedom of religion and speech’, Barnabas Fund has claimed.

In June, the EU made an agreement with Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and other internet companies, that if any civil society organisation raises concerns about an article or comment deemed to be hate speech, the material will be removed within 24 hours.

The new code of conduct agreed by the EU commits IT companies to work with these organisations to flag and remove comments deemed offensive.

Dr Martin Parsons, a legal expert for the Barnabas Fund, said: ‘There is an enormous danger this new code of conduct will be misused to undermine freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

‘It will effectively allow Islamist organisations to tell IT companies that any writing or speech critical of Islam — including that relating to conversion from Islam or persecution of Christians by Muslims — is “offensive” and must be removed. The implications of this are chilling’.

The origin of the policy was an EU Colloquium on Fundamental Rights, set up in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. The role of the colloquium was to protect free speech. It has been criticised for focussing instead on combatting Islamophobia.