The European Union could fine big tech companies billions of pounds as part of a landmark new deal to tackle hate speech, misinformation and other harmful online content.
The new Digital Services Act will force companies including Facebook, Google and Amazon to police themselves more and make it easier for users to flag problems.
EU officials finally reached an agreement in the early hours of Saturday morning, and they will impact all 27 member states.
“With the DSA, the days of major online platforms acting as if they were ‘too big to care’ are coming to an end,” said EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton.
EU Commission Vice-President Margrethe Vestager added that “with today’s agreement, we ensure that platforms are held accountable for the risks their services can pose to society and citizens.” .
The law contrasts dramatically with regulations in the US, where Silicon Valley lobbyists have been largely successful in retaining federal legislators.
New EU rules, designed to protect internet users and their “basic rights online”, will make tech companies more responsible for user-generated and amplified content represented by the algorithms on their platform.
The need to regulate online platforms came into focus after the 2016 US election when Russia was found to have used targeted ads on social networks to influence voters.
Facebook and Twitter promise to stop misinformation but during the COVID-19 pandemic, it just bloomedand anti-vaccine spoofing practices continue to thrive.
Under European Union law, governments can require companies to take down a variety of content deemed illegal, including material that incites terrorism, child molestation, speech hate and commercial fraud.
Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter will have to give users tools to “easily and efficiently” flag such content so it can be quickly removed.
Online marketplaces like Amazon will have to do the same for crafty products, such as dummies or unsafe toys.
It also bans ads that target minors and those that target users based on their gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation.
The tech giants have lobbied officials in Brussels to ask them to follow the rules.
To enforce them, the European Commission is expected to hire more than 200 new employees. To pay for it, tech companies will have to pay a “surveillance fee,” which could amount to 0.1% of their annual global net income, depending on the negotiations.
Twitter said on Saturday that it would review the rules “in detail” and that it supports “smart, future-thinking regulation that balances the need to address online harm with open Internet protection.” .
Google said in a statement Friday that it looks forward to “working with policymakers to understand the remaining technical details to ensure the law works for everyone.”
Amazon mentioned in a blog post from last year that it welcomes measures to improve trust in online services.
Facebook has yet to comment publicly.
Zach Meyers, a senior research fellow at the Center for European Reform, said: “The big tech companies will be up against other countries applying the same rules, and I can’t imagine companies companies voluntarily apply these rules outside the EU.