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European Commission Presses Social Media on Illegal Content

The European Commission has turned up the heat on social media companies by issuing new guidelines designed to increase swift and proactive removal of illegal online content inciting hatred, violence and terrorism.

First announced in a letter from President Juncker on September 13, the guidelines are designed to help build a more secure EU and a stronger single digital market.

Providers are now urged to appoint “points of contact” to liaise with national authorities speedily, and to work closely with “trusted flaggers”; specialised entities with expert knowledge on what constitutes illegal content.

Social platforms are also urged to make available easy ways for users to flag illegal content, and to invest in automated detection tools.

Fixed timeframes for the removal of especially harmful content are still being considered, while transparency reports – which most providers produce anyway – were also recommended.

Platforms were told to take steps to dissuade users from continually posting illegal content.

This is just the first step of what will be an ongoing process of much closer oversight on such matters by the Commission, which will assess whether legislation is ultimately needed or if the market can self-regulate.

It claimed this process will be completed by May 2018.

The move will please British Prime Minister Theresa May, who has consistently tried to talk tough on such matters and conducted high level 'discussions' with Silicon Valley firms to encourage swifter action.

Mariya Gabriel, commissioner for the digital economy and society, argued that in over 28% of cases, illegal content is left online for over a week, a situation which she claimed is “unsustainable”.

“The rule of law applies online just as much as offline. We cannot accept a digital Wild West, and we must act,” added justice commissioner, Vera Jourová. “The code of conduct I agreed with Facebook, Twitter, Google and Microsoft shows that a self-regulatory approach can serve as a good example and can lead to results. However, if the tech companies don't deliver, we will do it."

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