European Lawmakers Back New Online Terror Content Rules

(Bloomberg) -- Google, Twitter Inc., Facebook Inc. and other tech firms are one step closer to facing the threat of fines if they fail to speedily remove terror propaganda from their sites, under new European Union rules backed by lawmakers Monday.

The European Parliament’s civil liberties committee endorsed draft rules that would require web platforms to wipe Islamic State videos and other terror content from their services within an hour of notification for removal by national authorities. Companies could be hit with fines as high as 4 percent of annual revenue if they systematically fail to remove problematic content.

The vote paves the way for negotiations between the EU’s three institutions-- the parliament, the bloc’s member states and the European Commission -- to hammer out the final version of the text before it enters into force.

The push comes amid a growing backlash against technology companies to curb illegal activity on their sites. The U.K. on Monday outlined plans for an industry-funded regulator that would police the technology companies’ platforms for harmful content, such as incitement to terrorism and child sexual exploitation.

While large tech firms have developed automated tools to help catch malicious posts, EU officials say their efforts haven’t gone far enough. Facebook and Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube have also come under fire in recent weeks for failing to quickly remove a video live-streamed by the alleged gunman of the March 15 mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, which left 50 people dead.

Freedom of expression activists say the EU rules are part of wider effort to make tech platforms legally liable for the content users upload on their sites. They worry tech firms will err on the side of caution to avoid fines and potentially remove more content than is necessary. Smaller platforms are also likely to bear the brunt of the rules given they have fewer resources than larger companies to comply with the law.

The European Commission, the bloc’s executive body, first proposed the legislation last fall
and it was subsequently backed by the EU’s members states in December.

The negotiations on the text are likely to be delayed until the second half of the year as the institutions are unlikely to reach an agreement on the final text before the European Parliament holds elections at the end of May.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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