The European Commission is reportedly planning to bring in new laws that will punish social media companies if they don’t remove terrorist content within an hour of it being flagged.
The news comes courtesy of the FT, which spoke to the EU commissioner for security, Julian King, on the matter of terrorists spreading their message over social media.
“We cannot afford to relax or become complacent in the face of such a shadowy and destructive phenomenon,” he said, after reflecting that he doesn’t think enough progress had been made in this area.
Earlier this year the EU took the somewhat self-contradictory step of imposing some voluntary guidelines on social media companies to take down material that promotes terrorism within an hour of it being flagged.
In hindsight that move seems to have been made in order to lay the ground for full legislation, with Europe now being able to claim its hand has been reluctantly forced by the failure of social media companies to do the job themselves.
So long as the legal stipulation if for content to be taken down when explicitly flagged as terrorist by police authorities it should be pretty easy to enforce – indeed it could probably be automated.
But legislation such as this does pose broader questions around censorship. How is ‘terrorist’ defined? Will there be a right of appeal?
Will other organisations be given the power to demand content be taken down?
Will this law be extended to other types of contentious content?
At the end of the FT piece it is noted that, while the EU still allows self-regulation on more subjective areas like ‘hate speech’ and ‘fake news’, Germany is a lot more authoritarian on the matter. Given the considerable influence Germany has over the European bureaucracy it’s not unreasonable to anticipate a time when the EU follows Germany’s lead on this matter.
Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump – avid user of Twitter but loather of much of the mainstream media – got involved in the social media censorship debate via his favoured medium.