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The Fate of Net Neutrality Hinges on the House

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WASHINGTON — On Thursday, the Center for American Progress, Color Of Change, Free Press, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the National Hispanic Media Coalition and the Southern Poverty Law Center, along with a coalition of more than 40 groups, announced the release of Change the Terms, a set of recommended policies for internet companies to adopt and implement to disrupt hateful activities on their platforms.

The release of these policies coincides with the launch of changetheterms.org, a site where people can learn more about the issue and the coalition, and take action by urging prominent internet companies to adopt the policies as part of their terms of service.

While a free and open internet creates immense social value, it can also be used to engage in hateful activities on a large scale. White-supremacist groups and other organizations inciting hate are using online platforms to organize, fund, recruit supporters for, and normalize racism, sexism, religious bigotry, homophobia, transphobia and anti-immigrant animus. This chills the online speech of the targeted groups, curbs democratic participation and threatens people’s safety and freedom in real life.

While some companies are taking steps in the right direction to reduce hateful activities online, anti-hate provisions in most companies’ terms of service alone are not sufficient. To ensure that companies are doing enough to combat hateful conduct on their platforms, organizations in this campaign will track the progress of major tech companies — especially social-media platforms — in adopting and implementing these model corporate policies. The coalition will also give report cards to these same companies on both their policies and their execution of those policies in 2019.

The accompanying report “Curbing Hate Online: What Companies Should Do Now” shares what the coalition learned from meeting with experts on terrorism, human rights and technology around the world, and includes our recommended policies to help internet companies reduce hateful activities on their platforms. These policies are based on the online tools and information that are available today. Policies and approaches for addressing hateful activities will need to evolve as technologies as well as uses change and as a result of lessons learned by both internet companies and researchers who evaluate data on hateful activities online.

“Coordinated online attacks by White supremacists have sparked violence in the offline world," said Jessica González, deputy director and senior counsel at Free Press. "They also chill the online speech of those of us who are members of targeted groups, frustrating democratic participation in the digital marketplace of ideas and — even more importantly — threatening our safety and freedom in real life. Internet companies can no longer ignore how the hate speech of the few silences the voices and threatens the lives of the marginalized many."

“Russian attempts to influence U.S. voters in the 2016 election entailed spreading hateful racist lies online and efforts to increase divisions based on race, ethnicity, and religion on major online platforms. And this past Friday, the U.S. Department of Justice brought its first criminal case over alleged Russian interference in the 2018 midterm elections,” said Henry Fernandez, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. “That’s why it is important that today, we are releasing these model corporate policies, because elections are both central to our democracy but also ground zero for attacks on democracy by those engaging in hateful activities online. We hope our model corporate policies provide guidance on this front for tech companies in future elections.”

“Social-media platforms have a tremendous impact because of their ability to amplify extreme ideas from the fringes,” said Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project. “The Southern Poverty Law Center has documented how hateful rhetoric online can turn into violence in real life, including the tragic events that we saw unfold in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year. Internet companies must to do more to ensure that they are doing their part to combat extremism and hate and take the threat of hate and extremism on their platforms more seriously.”

“When technology companies allow White supremacists and White nationalists to use their platforms to organize, fundraise, and terrorize Black communities, they threaten the human rights of Black people and undermine democracy,” said Brandi Collins, senior campaign director at Color Of Change. “Color Of Change has destabilized hate groups by holding tech companies accountable for their complicity in the proliferation of White supremacy. It is not enough for companies to apologize after incidents like last year’s Charlottesville rally and last week’s Proud Boys attacks. They must quickly, assertively, and proactively remove the forces who threaten our democracy by adopting and implementing these policies.”

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