Facing growing concern about the destructive impact of “fake news”, internet giants Facebook, Twitter, and Google joined more than 20 tech firms at a series of meetings in Brussels over the past week.
On 9 January, five European Commissioners, including those in charge of home affairs, justice, and digital legislation, attended a meeting with CEOs from some of the largest internet companies, to discuss whether new legislation would be introduced this spring which would require the companies to take down any illegal posts, including terrorist material or hate speech.
Over the past year, the European Commission has been putting increasing pressure on social media companies to voluntarily take responsibility for the “fake news” (aka “lies”) and illegal content they publish.
According to Euractiv,
The Commission has put off introducing hard EU law but threatened over the last year that it might resort to regulating companies if they don’t remove illegal posts on their own. Every few months, the Commission meets with some of the biggest platforms—Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Facebook—to review how quickly they remove illegal posts as part of a non-binding agreement that the firms signed on to in 2016.
The Commission warned last September that it would give the companies a few more months to speed up their rate of removing that material, and promised to announce by May whether it will propose a law.
Germany and France lead the pack
Decisive action from the EU’s two largest member states may force the issue: Germany has already passed legislation forcing companies to remove illegal posts, or face fines of up to tens of millions of euros; and France is in the process of drafting a new law which will regulate how platforms display “fake news”. These measures may pave the way for the Commission to take a more assertive role in determining how social media platforms should decide what constitutes illegal content, and what they ought to do about it.
In a statement following last Tuesday’s meeting, the Commission said, ““If the industry does not act—and fast—we will.”
Even Andrus Ansip, EU Vice President in charge of the digital single market, who has previously disapproved of regulations which might spiral into a “ministry of truth”, said the companies are not acting quickly enough.
On Twitter, Mr Ansip said, “#onlineplatforms have huge power and influence, also social responsibility. Today’s regime is flexible enough for them to take action to remove #illegalcontent – but it is up to platforms to do this. If platforms will not act proactively, legislators will”.
High Level Expert Group meets in Brussels
On 15 January, representatives from Facebook, Twitter, and Google were once again in Brussels at the first meeting of the High Level Expert Group on Fake News and online disinformation. The Expert Group, comprising 39 representatives from civil society, social media, online platforms, news media organisations, and academia, was convened by Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, and will be chaired by Professor Dr Madeleine de Cock Buning, a lecturer from Utrecht University who specialises in Intellectual Property, Copyright and Media and Communication Law.
The goal of the Expert Group is to develop a European approach to “fake news” and illegal content, which will respect freedom of expression as well as the “right to access reliable information”:
A full list of members of the group can be found on this European Commission page.
What does this mean for the Hampstead SRA hoax?
This may be an opportunity for those of us who oppose this hoax to make our views known, and participate in ensuring that the social media companies live up to their social and legal responsibilities.
We have long complained that we’d like to see the social media giants take a more aggressive and proactive approach to removing illegal and destructive posts from their pages, and this could be a chance to contact decision-makers directly to ensure our views are known.
Over the next week we will be writing to the chair of the Expert Group, along with the five Commissioners who’ve shown a particular interest in this topic:
If you’d like to follow the discussion on Twitter, you may do so via @EU_MediaLit and #TackleFakeNews.
If you’d like to write to the Expert Group yourself, Professor Dr Madeleine de Cock Buning’s contact information may be found here.
And if you have any points you especially want us to include when we contact the Commissioners or the Expert Group, please let us know in the Contents section.