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Civil rights groups call for tech firms to crack down on hate groups

Tech companies have begun to block hate groups but some executives have publicly grappled with whether they should determine who can speak or make money online.
Members of the Ku Klux Klan participate in cross burnings after a "white pride" rally near Cedar Town, Georgia, in 2016.John Bazemore / AP file

Six organizations that push for civil rights are asking the tech industry to take a harder line against hate groups that use their services.

The organizations said in a report on Thursday that they want companies across the tech sector — from social media networks and retailers to online payment processors and website hosts — to prohibit “hateful activities” in their terms of service and to put more resources toward enforcement.

They said they plan to release a report card next year on the extent to which tech companies follow their recommendations. The report came from 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.

“There are so many different companies that need to look at their own responsibility,” said Brandi Collins, senior campaign director at Color of Change, one of the six groups releasing the report. “We really want tech companies to start examining their role.”

Silicon Valley has been torn over how it should respond to white supremacists and other hate groups. Big companies with large public profiles such as Facebook generally prohibit hate speech, and last year, after violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, a wider group of tech firms such as domain registrars and security vendors began exiling neo-Nazi groups.

But corporate policies vary, and some tech executives have publicly grappled with whether they should determine who can speak or make money online. President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers have said that they worry tech companies discriminate against conservatives in their decisions of whom to censor.

The civil rights groups define “hateful activities” to include activities that incite or engage in violence, intimidation, harassment, threats or defamation targeting people based on a number of characteristics such as race.

“Online tools have been used to coordinate attacks, including violence against people of color, immigrants, religious minorities, LGBTQIA people, women and people with disabilities,” the report released on Thursday said.

“This chills the online speech of the targeted groups, curbs democratic participation, and threatens people’s safety and freedom in real life.”

The organizations also said they want tech companies to take steps that would encourage people to flag hate speech, such as always responding to someone who flagged content with the result of the company’s review.

Users, though, should have the right to appeal any decision to suspend their accounts, the groups said.