The European Union was launching Thursday a new collaboration with leading internet companies to tackle online hate speech and terrorist propaganda, as part of the bloc's efforts to curb the activities of extremist groups.
"Terrorists are abusing the internet to spread their poisonous propaganda: that needs to stop," EU Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said in a statement, expressing hope that the new EU Internet Forum would provide "powerful and credible voices to challenge extremist narratives."
Participants in the forum include the internet giants Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter, as well as EU interior ministers, the bloc's counterterrorism coordinator and representatives from the law-enforcement agency Europol.
They will discuss, among other things, how to protect the public from terrorist material and how to use the internet to challenge terrorist narratives and online hate speech.
The European Commission, the EU's executive, said it would push for "more effective procedures" to remove "harmful material" posted on the internet.
"It cannot be in the future that messages such as 'Jews should be gassed' or 'Refugees up against the [firing-squad] wall' just stay there on the Web," German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said Thursday on the margins of a meeting with his EU counterparts in Brussels. "Such things have to be erased."
Internet companies have not been doing enough to delete xenophonobic postings, the minister said, noting that online hate speech has increased in recent months in Germany - for instance calls for the murder of migrants.
"There is growing evidence that online incitement to hatred leads to violence offline. We must step up work to limit and eradicate this phenomenon online," EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova said.
But she also acknowledged that there "a delicate exercise" will have to be carried out to "define clearly where freedom of expression stops and where hate speech starts."