Social media platforms should not be the “gatekeepers” on deciding which harmful online material should be deleted and which should stay, according to German MEP Tiemo Wolken.
Wolken, the rapporteur on the issue in the European Parliament’s influential Legal Affairs Committee, was speaking at a press conference on the European Commission’s flagship online business package, the Digital Services Act (DSA).
The EU hopes the upcoming legislation will shape the digital economy at European level and, earlier this week, MEPs in the Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) Committee adopted a wide ranging report that calls on the Commission to address “current shortcomings” in its DSA package, due to be presented by the end of the year.
Wolken said the aim should not be “to put private companies in charge of policing the internet.” Rather, he advocates “a clear notice and action system that provides legal clarity to platforms and guarantees the fundamental rights of users.”
He said, “It is important that the law fully applies in the digital world, both in terms of access to justice and enforcement. For example, when content is deleted, we want to make sure users are able to seek legal redress through fair and independent dispute settlement bodies in member states.”
“When online services are not complying with the rules, we want to make sure there is a body in place, like a European agency, that has the teeth it needs to enforce the rules, for example with fines.”
“We want to put users in charge of the content they see, rather than leave them at the mercy of profit-driven algorithms that prioritise attention-grabbing content. The best fight against harmful content is not censorship, but putting users in control of what content they are shown” Tiemo Wolken MEP
Some rules on content management are, he argued, needed to “help limit the viral spread of hate speech and disinformation,”, adding, “We want to put users in charge of the content they see, rather than leave them at the mercy of profit-driven algorithms that prioritise attention-grabbing content.”
“The best fight against harmful content is not censorship, but putting users in control of what content they are shown.”
He explained that “harmful” online content “can spread rapidly like wildfire”, and asked “why is it that such harmful content is far more likely to go viral? It is something to do with the business models of the social media companies which can earn a lot more money by showing content which is more eye-catching, attention grabbing and scandalous.”
In the report, MEPs say they want a strict distinction between “illegal” content and “harmful” content.
Harmful content, hate speech and disinformation should be dealt, they say, through “enhanced transparency obligations” and by helping citizens to acquire media and digital literacy regarding dissemination of such content.
The Socialist group MEP said a “compromise” on the issue had been reached between the various political groups in Parliament, which he called “a positive outcome.”
"We live in a digital world where digital services have become the new utilities of our time. Their importance for our lives will only continue to grow. The report we voted on [in IMCO] recognises that a unique holistic, common approach built on trust, choice, and a high level of protection fully integrating users', consumers', and SMEs' concerns is needed” Alex Agius Saliba MEP
He told reporters, “The measures are about protecting fundamental rights online, disinformation, fake news and data protection.”
He said the aim is to prevent harmful content by giving users more control, adding, “It is not necessarily about censoring unwanted content but to limit the harm it does.”
“We managed to reach a compromise on the package, supported by a large majority of the groups.”
The resulting report was “fair and progressive” but also calls for an “effective oversight by a strong European entity”.
Further comment comes from Wolken’s Socialist Group colleague, Alex Aguius Saliba, the rapporteur for the IMCO Committee’s report on the DSA dossier who said: “We live in a digital world where digital services have become the new utilities of our time. Their importance for our lives will only continue to grow.”
“The report we voted on recognises that a unique holistic, common approach built on trust, choice, and a high level of protection fully integrating users', consumers', and SMEs' concerns is needed”.
The vote in plenary is expected to take place during the 19-22 October session and the “legislative initiative” report will then be sent to the Commission to feed into its DSA package.