Tech giants call for more content liability protection in the EU

Safeguards would give them more leeway to tackle hate speech, a lobby argued.

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Facebook, Twitter, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and other tech giants have urged the European Union for more liability protection to help them tackle illegal content and hate speech. Edima, an association that represents the companies, argued stronger protections would result in “better quality” moderation by companies of user-generated content.

As things stand, those companies do have liability protection under EU rules, as long as they don't have "actual knowledge" of hate speech or illegal content on their platforms. Once such material becomes known to them (such as when it's flagged by a user), they have to remove that content quickly. According to Bloomberg, the companies are concerned that if their own systems detect harmful or illegal content, that could be considered as them having "actual knowledge" and make them liable for that material.

Sturdier safeguards would incentivize the companies to strip out offending or illegal content while protecting the "European principle of freedom of expression," Edima claimed. "We want users to have a meaningful way to get an explanation regarding why their content was removed & be able to easily appeal content removals," it added. The organization also represents the likes of Spotify, TikTok, eBay, Mozilla, Snap, Yelp and Engadget's parent company Verizon Media.

EU regulators are looking to “modernize the current legal framework for digital services.” They’re set to propose new Internet regulations under the Digital Services Act in early December.

Edima is sending proposed amendments for legislation to EU lawmakers. Its call comes as US liability protections for tech platforms are under threat. Many prominent politicians, including President Donald Trump, have called for a repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The provision shields companies that depend on user-generated content from liability. If it's repealed or modified, platforms could have to enforce much heavier moderation.

Meanwhile, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey, the CEOs of Facebook and Twitter respectively, will testify in front of a Senate panel next month. The Judiciary Committee subpoenaed them after their services limited the spread of contentious news articles about Joe Biden's son, Hunter. Committee members plan to grill Zuckerberg and Dorsey over their “platforms’ censorship and suppression of New York Post articles.”