Modern technology giants like Facebook and Google came under raising pressure in Europe on Monday while countries proposed stricter rules to force them to block great material like terrorist propaganda and child porn.
Britain called for a first-of-its-kind watchdog for social media site that could fine executives and even ban companies. And a European Union parliamentary committee approved a bill giving internet companies an hour to remove terror-related material or face fines that could reach into the billions.
“We are pushing these companies to clean up their act once and for all,” stated British Home Secretary Sajid Javid, whose department collaborated on Britain’s proposal.
Opponents cautioned the British and EU measures could stifle innovation and strengthen the dominance of technology giants because smaller companies won’t have the money to comply. That, in turn, could turn Google and then Facebook into the web’s censors, they claimed.
The push to make the big companies responsible for the torrent of material they carry has largely been driven by Europeans. However it picked up momentum after the March 15 mosque shootings in New Zealand that killed 50 people and also were livestreamed for 17 minutes. Facebook stated it removed 1.5 million videos of the attacks in the 24 hours afterward.
The US, where government action is restricted by the First Amendment right to free speech and freedom of the press, has taken a more hands-off approach , although on Tuesday, a House committee will press Google and Facebook executives on whether or not they are doing enough to curb the spread of hate crimes and white nationalism.
Australia last week made it a crime for social media platforms not to quickly remove “abhorrent violent material.” The criminal offense can be punishable by three years in prison and a fine of 10.5 million Australian dollars ($7.5 million), or 10% of the platform’s annual revenue, whichever is larger. New Zealand’s Privacy Commissioner wants his country to so the same.
The British plan would need social media firms for instance Facebook and Twitter to protect individuals who use their sites from “harmful content.” The plan, which include the creation of an independent regulator funded by a tax on internet companies, is going to be subject to public comment for three months before the government publishes draft legislation.
“No one in the globe has done this before, and it’s important that we obtain it right,” Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright told the BBC.
Facebook’s head of public policy in Britain, Rebecca Stimson, claimed the goal of the new rules must be to defend society when also supporting innovation and freedom of speech.
“These are complex problems to get right, and then we look ahead to working with the government and Parliament to make sure new stipulations are very effective,” she stated.
Britain will consider imposing financial penalties just like those under the EU’s online data privacy law, which allows fines of up to 4% of a company’s annual worldwide revenue, Wright claimed. In extreme cases, the government may also seek to fine individual company directors and prevent companies from operating in Britain.
Under the EU legislation that cleared an initial hurdle in Brussels, any internet companies that fail to remove terrorist content within an hour of being notified by authorities would face similar 4% penalties. EU authorities came up with the idea last year after attacks highlighted the growing trend of online radicalization.
The bill would apply to companies providing services to EU citizens, whether or not those businesses are based in the EU’s 28 member countries. It still needs further approval, which includes from the full European Parliament.
It faces heavy opposition from digital rights organizations, tech industry groups and some lawmakers, who stated the 60-minute deadline is impractical and would lead companies to go too far and then remove even lawful material.
“Instead, we call for a more pragmatic approach with removals happening ‘as soon as possible,’ to defend citizens’ rights and competitiveness,” stated EDIMA, a European trade group for new media and internet companies.
Opponents stated the measure also places a bigger burden on smaller internet companies than on giants like Facebook and Google, which already have automated content filters. To help smaller web companies, the bill was modified to give them an extra 12 hours for their first offense, a measure opponents stated didn’t go far enough.
Mark Skilton, a professor at England’s Warwick Business School, urged regulators to pursue new methods like artificial intelligence that could do a better job of tackling the problem.
“Issuing large fines and hitting companies with bigger legal threats is taking a 20th-century bullwhip approach to a problem that requires a nuanced solution,” he stated. “It requires machine learning tools to manage the 21st-century problems of the internet.”
Wright stated Britain’s proposed social-media regulator would be anticipated to take freedom of speech into account when trying to prevent harm.
“What we’re discussing here is user-generated content, what people put online, and companies that facilitate access to that kind of material,” he stated. “So this is not about journalism. This is about an unregulated space that we need to control better to keep people safer.”