Meta Platforms Inc., Google and X, formerly known as Twitter, will need to adhere to strict new content moderation rules in the European Union when a new law governing social media platforms becomes legally enforceable from Friday.
Alphabet Inc.’s Google said Thursday that it’s making several changes to comply with the EU’s Digital Services Act, including expanding access to data on targeting of online ads and disclosing more information about its content moderation operations for services like Google Search. It will also augment risk analysis for its largest platforms.
Nineteen companies were designated “very large online platforms” and “very large online search engines” by the EU last spring, which means they had more than 45 million monthly users.
These platforms now need to comply with rules that include restrictions on targeting ads to minors and using sensitive data like race or gender in serving ads. They will also be required to have sufficient numbers of content moderators in each EU language.
The companies will have to submit risk assessments to the European Commission that detail how they mitigate the impact of harmful content on their platforms. Non-compliance could lead to fines as high as 6% of a company’s annual revenue, or even being banned from operating in the bloc.
“It is critical that the DSA now maintains its primacy over existing and new national laws, to protect the clarity it has created for services, maintain consistency in the way tech companies are held to account, and preserve the harmonious way people experience our platforms across the region,” Clegg wrote in a blog post.
No ‘Free Pass’
The EU’s internal market commissioner, Thierry Breton, recently met with the heads of Twitter, Meta and TikTok to discuss the rules. He warned these companies that they needed to do more work to get enough content moderators in place, especially ahead of an election in Slovakia.
“Europe is now effectively the first jurisdiction in the world where online platforms no longer benefit from a ‘free pass’ and set their own rules,” Breton said Wednesday in a statement. “They are now regulated entities in the same way financial institutions are.”
Privacy and civil society advocates have been underwhelmed by the companies’ actions so far, with several calling for more ambitious plans to disclose data to non-profit groups and outside researchers.
“It’s shocking that none of them have made any progress to fulfill their obligation to open up their public data to researchers, including civil society watchdogs,” said Luca Nicotra, campaign director at Avaaz, a nonprofit group that monitors social media. “Thierry Breton must immediately send a clear message to Silicon Valley that this is unacceptable, and sanctions will follow.”
Focus on Musk
The EU has focused on billionaire Elon Musk’s X platform, which is trying to use artificial intelligence and feedback from users via its Community Notes program to police content. Breton said that while such steps are promising, the company will have to prove that these methods are strong enough to meet the rules under the DSA.
Musk “made very clear that he will comply with our regulation,” Breton said after a Twitter “stress test” in Silicon Valley in June. “But there’s some work to be done.”
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TikTok, similarly, was not yet compliant with the rules following a stress test in mid-July. Since then, parent company Bytedance Inc. announced it was soon updating TikTok to adhere to the new rules, including allowing users to report illegal content and choose a feed that has not been personalized.
Meta might fare better. The company has more than 1,000 employees working on DSA compliance and presented Breton and his team with “a lot of information” about compliance when the commissioner visited the company in June. He warned CEO Mark Zuckerberg that the company needs to work harder to fight Russian disinformation, especially in Eastern Europe, about the war in Ukraine.
While most of the political and media attention on the DSA has focused on how social media platforms will police content, legal action has centered around new rules for digital marketplaces, with Amazon.com Inc. and German retailer Zalando SE filing lawsuits against the commission for the new rules.
Neither company believes it should be subject to the new rules. Amazon said in a statement this summer that the commission’s criteria are discriminatory and that its marketplace is not the dominant retailer in any EU country where it operates. Similarly, Zalando said the commission misinterpreted its numbers and failed to recognize its role as a retailer.
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Major online companies are also bracing for another landmark EU law that will soon take effect. The Digital Markets Act will target their business practices, including new restrictions on combining personal data between services, requirements for interoperability between online messaging systems and allowing the use of third-party payment systems and app stores.
On Sept. 6, the EU will release a list of companies that will be subject to the new rules.
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