EU lays out rules for firms to fight online illegal material
Facebook, Google among tech firms under pressure to react
The European Union issued internet giants an ultimatum to remove illegal online terrorist content within an hour, or risk facing new EU-wide laws.
The European Commission on Thursday issued a set of recommendations for companies and EU nations that apply to all forms of illegal internet material, “from terrorist content, incitement to hatred and violence, child sexual abuse material, counterfeit products and copyright infringement.”
“Considering that terrorist content is most harmful in the first hours of its appearance online, all companies should remove such content within one hour from its referral as a general rule,” the EU authority said.
The commission last year called upon social media companies, including Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc. and Google owner Alphabet Inc., to develop a common set of tools to detect, block and remove terrorist propaganda and hate speech. Thursday’s recommendations aim to “further step up” the work already done by governments and push firms to “redouble their efforts to take illegal content off the web more quickly and efficiently.”
One hour to take down terrorist content is too short, the Computer & Communications Industry Association, which speaks for companies like Google and Facebook, said in a statement that criticized the EU’s plans as harming the bloc’s technology economy.
“Such a tight time limit does not take due account of all actual constraints linked to content removal and will strongly incentivize hosting services providers to simply take down all reported content,” the group said in a statement.
The EU stressed that its recommendations send a clear signal to internet companies that the voluntary approach remains the watchdog’s favorite approach for now and that the firms “have a key role to play.”
This includes having tools in place to automatically detect terrorist content. This is “not only possible, it’s being done already by a number of the larger platforms,” said Julian King, the EU’s commissioner for Security Union. The EU also wants these firms “to help the smaller platforms, so that we can avoid a migration of this content that we are targeting from some platforms to other platforms.”
Companies were given three months to deliver on the EU’s objectives regarding online terrorist content. The regulator is weighing possible new laws and additional steps depending on the actions that will be taken in response to its recommendations.
“Online platforms are becoming people’s main gateway to information, so they have a responsibility to provide a secure environment for their users,” said Andrus Ansip, EU vice president for the digital single market. “We still need to react faster against terrorist propaganda and other illegal content which is a serious threat to our citizens’ security, safety and fundamental rights.”
Digital rights group EDRi warned in a statement that the EU is seeking to avoid new rules and instead is “pushing ‘voluntary’ censorship to internet giants.”
“Today’s recommendation institutionalizes a role for Facebook and Google in regulating the free speech of Europeans,” said Joe McNamee, the group’s executive director.