Online Platforms and Illegal Content: New EU Commission Guidelines

The EU Commission has published a ‘Communication’ setting out guidelines and principles for online platforms dealing with illegal content inciting hatred, violence and terrorism

On 28 September, the EU Commission presented guidelines and principles for online platforms to increase the proactive prevention, detection and removal of illegal content inciting hatred, violence and terrorism online.

The full title of the document containing these guidelines and principles is ‘COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, THE COUNCIL, THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE AND THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS Tackling Illegal Content Online Towards an enhanced responsibility of online platforms’ and can be downloaded here.

The Commission’s stated aim is to increase the proactive prevention, detection and removal of illegal content inciting hatred, violence and terrorism online. The Commission believes that the increasing availability and spreading of terrorist material and content that incites violence and hatred online is a serious threat to the security and safety of EU citizens and undermines citizens' trust and confidence in the digital environment – a key engine of innovation, growth and jobs. The Communication’s objective is to ‘facilitate and intensify the implementation of good practices for preventing, detecting, removing and disabling access to illegal content so as to ensure the effective removal of illegal content, increased transparency and the protection of fundamental rights online’.

The EU Commission press release can be accessed here but SCL members should be warned that it makes reference to ‘a digital Wild West’.

The strict legal status of the Communication is uncertain; it probably has none. But the Commission describes it as ‘a first step’ and states that ‘follow-up initiatives will depend on the online platforms' actions to proactively implement the guidelines’. The Commission will monitor progress made by the online platforms and, by May 2018, ‘assess whether additional measures are needed in order to ensure the swift and proactive detection and removal of illegal content online, including possible legislative measures to complement the existing regulatory framework’.

Highlights of the Communication include:

  •  Detection and notification: Online platforms should cooperate more closely with competent national authorities, by appointing points of contact to ensure they can be contacted rapidly to remove illegal content. To speed up detection, online platforms are encouraged to work closely with trusted flaggers, i.e. specialised entities with expert knowledge on what constitutes illegal content. Additionally, they should establish easily accessible mechanisms to allow users to flag illegal content and to invest in automatic detection technologies.
  • Effective removal: Illegal content should be removed as fast as possible, and can be subject to specific timeframes, where serious harm is at stake, for instance in cases of incitement to terrorist acts. The issue of fixed timeframes will be further analysed by the Commission. Platforms should clearly explain to their users their content policy and issue transparency reports detailing the number and types of notices received. Internet companies should also introduce safeguards to prevent the risk of over-removal.
  • Prevention of re-appearance: Platforms should take measures to dissuade users from repeatedly uploading illegal content. The Commission strongly encourages the further use and development of automatic tools to prevent the re-appearance of previously removed content.

Published: 2017-09-28T11:40:00

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