Members of the European Parliament have a renewed duty to address the thorny issue of regulating social media content, in the wake of last week’s Capitol Hill riots, the chair of the Parliament’s Internal Market committee told EURACTIV.
Speaking following last week’s violent uprising in the US capital, Green MEP Anna Cavazzini said the world’s ‘eyes have been opened’ to the challenge of dealing with online disinformation and the spread of online hate.
“What we saw in Washington was horrific,” Cavazzini said. “But it’s a culmination of years of online hatred and fake news that has been built up over recent years. This is nothing new.”
However, Cavazzini also noted that the actions of the platforms in the aftermath of the riots raise some ‘serious questions’ for the role of social media in policing online speech.
As such, she believes that the task of clamping down on this type of content online will not be plain sailing for EU lawmakers, who are soon set to embark on a series of debates on the Commission’s landmark Digital Services Act, presented in December.
“Twitter and Facebook have only adopted such a rigorous approach since it became clear that Trump would no longer be America’s president,” Cavazzini said, referring to the decision of both platforms to rescind Donald Trump’s user accounts.
“There’s always a fine line between stamping out harmful content and blocking legitimate statements that come from politicians.”
“These are questions that we will now have to address as part of our talks on the Digital Services Act in the Internal Market Committee.”
Under the Commission’s Digital Services Act, platforms could face the prospect of billions of euros in fines unless they abide by new rules on advertising transparency, illegal content removal, and data access. Penalties for violations include fines of up to 6% of a company’s annual income.
The file – along with the Digital Markets Act, which will tackle unfair competition in the digital economy – has been provisionally assigned to the Internal Market committee, as the lead continent of MEPs to respond to the EU executive’s proposal, Cavazzini confirmed.
However, the leadership of both files can be contested by a rival committee, should they feel better placed to tackle the provisions set in the measures. Should this eventuality occur, a negotiation process between committee chairs is launched, in an attempt to hash out a deal for the leadership of the files.
Cavazzini is confident that both texts will call under the remit of the Internal Market committee, and regards the regulation of the digital economy as one of the committee’s two biggest priorities, along with making the internal market fit for the green deal. The committee is set to hold an exchange of view on both texts on Monday (11 January).
The German MEP also said the Commission had taken the right approach in highlighting the importance of preserving fundamental rights, including the freedom of expression, as part of the Digital Services Act.
“The DSA proposal mentioned fundamental rights many times, and focussed predominantly on illegal content and not harmful. This is a good starting point.”
“Harmful content, such as that which we saw leading up to and after the Capitol Hill riots is a much more vague area.”
Leading up to the presentation of the Digital Services Act last year, the Commission had distanced itself from supporting the notion of introducing hard regulation in terms of takedowns at least, against legal but harmful content in the EU.
This had transpired after a video-call between Věra Jourová, the Commission vice-president for values and transparency, and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, in which the former had disclosed her intention not to necessarily introduce future rules that would force platforms to remove harmful online content or disinformation, focussing instead on how this content spreads online.
“In order to address disinformation and harmful content we should focus on how this content is distributed and shown to people rather than push for removal,” Jourová said following the call.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]