EU law targets social media giants over hate speech, disinformation

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The tentative agreement was reached between the EU parliament and the bloc’s member states. It still needs to be officially rubber-stamped by those institutions, which is expected after summer but should pose no political problem. The rules then won’t start applying until 15 months after that approval, or January 1, 2024, whichever is later.

“The DSA is nothing short of a paradigm shift in tech regulation. It’s the first major attempt to set rules and standards for algorithmic systems in digital media markets,” said Ben Scott, a former tech policy advisor to Hillary Clinton who’s now executive director of advocacy group Reset.

The need to regulate big tech more effectively came into sharper focus after the 2016 US presidential election, when Russia used social media platforms to try to influence voters. Tech companies like Facebook and Twitter promised to crack down on disinformation, but the problems have only worsened. During the pandemic, health misinformation blossomed and again the companies were slow to act, cracking down after years of allowing anti-vaccine falsehoods to thrive on their platforms.

Under the EU law, governments would be able to ask companies take down a wide range of content that would be deemed illegal, including material that promotes terrorism, child sexual abuse, hate speech and commercial scams. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter would have to give users tools to flag such content in an “easy and effective way” so that it can be swiftly removed. Online marketplaces like Amazon would have to do the same for dodgy products, such as counterfeit sneakers or unsafe toys.

Twitter said it would review the rules “in detail” and that it supports “smart, forward thinking regulation that balances the need to tackle online harm with protecting the open internet”.

TikTok said it awaits the act’s full details but “we support its aim to harmonise the approach to online content issues and welcome the DSA’s focus on transparency as a means to show accountability.”

Google said it looks forward to “working with policymakers to get the remaining technical details right to ensure the law works for everyone.”

Amazon referred to a blog post from last year that said it welcomed measures that enhance trust in online services. Facebook didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The Digital Services Act bans ads targeted at minors, as well as ads based on users’ gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. It also bans deceptive techniques companies use to nudge people into doing things they didn’t intend to, such as signing up for services that are easy to opt into, but hard to decline.

The EU reached a separate agreement last month on its Digital Markets Act, a law aimed at reining in the market power of tech giants and making them treat smaller rivals fairly.



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