As the world grapples with a deluge of unsubstantiated rumors and falsehoods about a deadly Gaza-Israel conflict, Europe’s internal markets commissioner is pressing a Chinese company that owns one of the most popular video-sharing apps to do more to stem the flow. In a video call with TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew on Monday, the 27-nation bloc Thierry Breton said the platform must “significantly increase its efforts to comply with European content moderation rules.”
It was not the first time that the European Union has cracked down on significant online platforms. Last year, it imposed its first rigid new digital rules. These, along with new legislation that takes effect in February, will make it more difficult for Big Tech to avoid responsibility for the harm they cause.
The 27-nation bloc Digital Services Act, or DSA, gives regulators the power to demand that online companies crack down on content deemed illegal under EU law or laws of individual member states. A company that fails to do so could face fines of up to six percent of its global revenue.
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Among the most significant provisions of the DSA is an obligation for online platforms to have policies in place to tackle disinformation, fake news, and other propaganda. It also requires that they do more to protect users’ data, including children and teenagers.
The DSA is a significant milestone in the EU’s long-standing push to curb the powers of Big Tech, especially its social media giants and search engines. Its passage in the final weeks of the European Parliament marks the first time that most members have supported regulating online platforms. The bill has the backing of a coalition of more than 100 organizations, including human rights groups and public interest advocacy groups. The DSA also has the support of a group representing online retailers and other businesses.
EU officials say the new rules will help ensure that online platforms respect fundamental rights, such as privacy and freedom of expression. They will also promote competition and encourage innovation. However, critics argue that the rules are too broad and will give regulators unchecked power to interfere with free speech.
The new rules will be a significant test for companies like Google, Facebook, and YouTube. The EU has taken a harder line against tech giants than the US, where industry lobbyists have managed to keep lawmakers at bay. The US government has stepped up its efforts to punish tech firms for privacy breaches, but it has yet to take action against one for spreading dangerous misinformation. The DSA is expected to be fully implemented in early 2020. It is expected to include rules requiring large online platforms to pay for the bandwidth used by users of their services. It also will require that online platforms disclose information about the origin of their content. It will also make it easier for governments to block access to the sites of terrorists and others who pose a threat to national security.