HomeInsightsEuropean Commission steps up efforts to tackle illegal content online

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The Commission has published a “Communication on Tackling Illegal Content Online – Towards an enhanced responsibility of online platforms”, which contains guidelines and principles for online platforms to increase the prevention, detection and removal of illegal content inciting hatred, violence and terrorism online.

The Commission says 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. It also undermines citizens’ trust and confidence in the digital environment, which is a key engine of innovation, growth and jobs.

Following up on the European Council conclusions of June 2017, echoed by G7 and G20 leaders, the proposed measures are the first part of an “anti-terrorism package” announced by President Juncker. The Commission says that they will “contribute to making the fight against illegal content more effective and will advance the ongoing work to build an effective and genuine EU Security Union and a stronger Digital Single Market.”

With the surge of illegal content online, including online terrorist propaganda and xenophobic and racist speech inciting violence and hatred, the Commission says that online platforms have “an increasingly important role to play” and need to “step up their social responsibility.” The new guidance calls on online platforms to boost further their efforts to prevent the spread of illegal content. Given their increasingly important role in providing access to information, the Commission expects online platforms to take swift action over the coming months, in particular in the area of terrorism and illegal hate speech, which is already illegal under EU law, both online and offline.

As a first step, the Commission has proposed the following:

  • Detection and notification: online platforms should cooperate more closely with the 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: further Illegal content should be removed as fast as possible, and can be subjected 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; and
  • 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.

The Commission says that the Communication is a first step, and follow-up initiatives will depend on the online platforms’ actions in implementing the guidelines. The Commission will carefully monitor progress made by the online platforms over the next months and 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. The Commission says that this work will be completed by May 2018. To read the Commission’s press release in full and for a link to the Communication and other relevant documents, click here.