European Commission: Tackling illegal content online

illegal content online

The efforts of the European Commission around tackling illegal content online are charted here by Open Access Government

The European Union, earlier this year said that they have responded to the challenge of illegal content online by means of both binding and non-binding measures, in sectoral and horizontal initiatives. Their ongoing work under sectorial dialogues with companies has shown positive results. For example, under the Code of Conduct on Countering Illegal Hate Speech Online, internet companies now remove on average 70% of illegal hate speech – and in more than 80% of these cases, the removals took place within 24 hours. However, illegal content online remains a severe issue with tremendous consequences for the security and safety of citizens and companies, thus undermining the trust in the digital economy.

European Commission reinforces EU response to illegal content online

In its communication back in September 2017 on tackling illegal content online, the European Commission promised to monitor progress in tackling illegal content online and assess whether further actions are needed to ensure the proactive and swift detection plus removal of illegal content online, including possible legislative measures to complement the regulatory framework already in place.

As a follow-up, the European Commission in March recommended a set of operational measures – accompanied by the safeguards – to be taken by companies and member states to further step up this work before it determines whether it will be necessary to enact legislation. These recommendations apply to all forms of illegal content, including terrorist content, incitement to hatred and violence, copyright infringement and counterfeit products.

The recommendation builds on the on-going work with the industry through various voluntary initiatives to ensure that the internet is free of illegal content.

Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip says: “Online platforms are becoming people’s main gateway to information, so they have a responsibility to provide a secure environment for their users. What is illegal offline is also illegal online. While several platforms have been removing more illegal content than ever before – showing that self-regulation can work – we still need to react faster against terrorist propaganda and other illegal content which is a serious threat to our citizens’ security, safety and fundamental rights.”

While progress has been made in protecting Europeans online, platforms still must redouble their efforts to take illegal content off the web more quickly and efficiently, the European Commission urges. Voluntary industry measures encouraged by the Commission are through the EU Internet Forum on terrorist content online, the Code of Conduct on Countering Illegal Hate Speech Online and the Memorandum of Understanding on the Sale of Counterfeit Goods have all been successful. Having said that, there is significant scope for more effective action, especially on the most urgent issue of terrorist content, where serious security risks are present.

Stronger procedures for more efficient removal of illegal content

The recommendations from March this year set out operational measures to reinforce the cooperation between companies, trusted flaggers and law enforcement authorities and to increase transparency and safeguards for citizens, include:

  • Clearer ‘notice and action’ procedures: Companies must make easy and transparent rules for notifying illegal content, including fast-track procedures for ‘trusted flaggers’. To avoid the unintended removal of content which is not illegal, content providers should be informed about such decisions and be able to contest them.
  • More efficient tools and proactive technologies: Companies must make clear notification systems available for users. They should have proactive tools to remove and detect illegal online content, such as child sexual abuse material or counterfeited goods.
  • Stronger safeguards to ensure fundamental rights: To ensure that decisions to remove content are accurate, especially when automated tools are used, companies must ensure effective and appropriate safeguards are out in place, including human verification and oversight, in full respect of fundamental rights, freedom of expression and data protection rules.
  • Closer cooperation with authorities: If there is evidence of a serious criminal offence or that illegal content is creating a threat to life or safety, companies must promptly inform law enforcement authorities. As such, member states are encouraged to establish the appropriate legal obligations.

Increased protection against terrorist content online

Terrorist content online poses a very grave risk to the security of Europeans and its proliferation must be treated as a matter of serious urgency. As such, the European Commission recommends more specific provisions to further curb terrorist content online, which are:

  • One-hour rule: Considering that terrorist content is most harmful in the first hours when it is online, all companies should, as a rule, remove such content within one hour from its referral.
  • Faster detection and effective removal: Internet companies must implement proactive measures, including automated detection, to effectively disable or remove terrorist content and stop it from reappearing again.
  • Improved referral system: Fast-track procedures must be laid out so that referrals can be processed as quickly as possible, while member states must make sure they have the necessary resources and capabilities to identify, detect and refer terrorist content.
  • Regular reporting: Member states should report to the European Commission on referrals, ideally every three months and their follow-up should ensure an overall cooperation with companies to hinder terrorist online content.

Next steps

The European Commission says they will monitor the actions taken in response to this specific recommendation and determine whether further steps, including, if necessary legislation, are needed.


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