Friday

21st Sep 2018

EU gives online platforms legal tool to justify takedowns

  • Social media users who think that their content has been taken down incorrectly, should have a means to appeal, the commission said (Photo: Daria Nepriakhina)

The European Commission adopted a legal text on Thursday (1 March) which gives online platforms like Facebook and Twitter guidelines on when and how to take down illegal content like hate speech or terrorist propaganda.

It follows previous measures, including a September 2017 strategy paper – a 'communication' in EU jargon – and dialogue with the internet companies.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

"There is no big difference between our communication and this recommendation," noted commission vice-president Andrus Ansip at a press conference on Thursday.

"But the difference is in the fact that a recommendation is a legal text. Our member states, also service providers they can use this legal text in possible court cases," said the former Estonian prime minister.

The recommendation, although it has no binding power of itself, included some more specific requirements. One was a call on companies to remove within one hour terrorist content that has been flagged by law enforcement authorities in a 'referral'.

"Given that terrorist content is typically most harmful in the first hour of its appearance online and given the specific expertise and responsibilities of competent authorities and Europol, referrals should be assessed and, where appropriate, acted upon within one hour, as a general rule," the recommendation stated.

Self-regulation?

The text, presented by no fewer than four EU commissioners, can be seen as something of a last chance for internet companies to make self-regulation work.

Security commissioner Julian King said the commission would monitor how the recommendation will play out in practice, and that the recommendation was about "sending a clear signal" to the internet companies.

"The voluntary approach is still our favourite approach," said King.

"One way or another – we need to meet the objectives we have set out today," he added.

Freedom of speech

The commissioners also stressed that the recommendation contained safeguards for protecting freedom of speech.

Users of platforms that have posted something which they believe is legal, should be able to appeal a company's decision to take down their content.

"They have to act. They have to explain why they took down this content," said Ansip.

It was for that reason that justice and consumers commissioner Vera Jourova added that she did not want 100 percent of flagged content automatically removed.

"There is some scope for doubt," said the Czech commissioner.

Her colleague Ansip reminded journalists that both he and Jourova had lived under socialist regimes which had effective censorship machines.

"We have to protect freedom of expression in Europe," said Ansip.

Germany

Ansip and Jourova indirectly criticised a recently adopted law in Germany, which demands social media sites remove "obviously illegal" posts quickly. If the companies don't, they face a potential €50m fine.

"There will be fine of €50m and of course the reaction of platforms is very simple. If they have some doubts then: down! out! down! and so on," said Ansip.

"That is why we proposed safeguards to protect freedom of speech," he added.

The Estonian commissioner noted that it was up to the German people to decide if the law should be amended, but that it did not appear to be ideal.

Jourova said she was "very curious about how the German law will work", but refrained from giving an assessment at the moment.

She did note that some in the IT sector told her that because of the possible sanction, the reflex is to delete verything, even if there are doubts.

"This is what I didn't want," she said - implying that the approach of the EU recommendation was better than the German 'Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz' -the "network enforcement law".

EU wants tech firms to police internet

The European Commission wants private companies to police the internet for hate speech. But civil groups and CEOs of major tech firms object, preferring clear rules and regulations.

Macron vows law against fake news

French president Emmanuel Macron has promised legislation to block the spread of fake news, as part of a broader effort to protect liberal democracies from Russian propaganda.

Column / Brussels Bytes

EU should not make platforms the judges of free speech

If the EU makes platforms liable for what their users post, then throughout Europe, the threat of fines will pressure platforms to delete all dubious content, raising the likelihood that legal content will be removed too, stifling public debate.

Opinion

Is EU retail sector equipped for 21st century?

After a thorough analysis in cooperation with EU countries we have identified many regulatory restrictions that hamper innovation and investment in the retail sector.

Opinion

Building a Europe more resilient to terrorism

One year to the day since the terror attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, the commissioner for home affairs spells out what action the EU is taking now to protect against further attacks.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  5. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  6. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  7. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  8. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  9. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  10. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  11. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow

Latest News

  1. Brexit and MEPs expenses in the spotlight This WEEK
  2. Wake-up call on European Day Against Islamophobia
  3. Sound of discord at 'Sound of Music' Salzburg summit
  4. Salzburg summit presses for bigger Frontex mandate
  5. UK's post-Brexit plan 'will not work', EU says
  6. Airbnb agrees to clarify pricing for EU
  7. Libya keeps coast guards rejected by the EU
  8. EU divisions on menu at Salzburg dinner

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  5. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  6. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  9. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  11. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us