The European Union approved new legislation that would pressure big tech giants like Meta, Google and Twitter to enforce illegal content on their platforms or potentially risk paying billions in fines.
After some 16 hours of negotiations, the EU reached a deal early Saturday in Brussels on the Digital Services Act, a landmark law requiring companies to more aggressively police their content and take down anything deemed harmful or illegal quickly.
“Our new rules will protect users online, ensure freedom of expression and opportunities for businesses,” EU President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted. “What is illegal offline will effectively be illegal online in the EU. A strong signal for people, business & countries worldwide.”
The historic vote comes more than a year after the EU presented the Digital Services Act (DSA) and a Digital Markets Act (DMA), which the EU approved last month and seeks to curb big tech’s marketing power, to the European Parliament. The EU said the legislation is the first in the world to target digital regulation.
“It aims to protect the digital space against the spread of illegal content, and to ensure the protection of users’ fundamental rights,” the EU said. Platforms with more than 45 million monthly active users in the EU are subjected to the law.
A critical part of the law would limit how big tech giants target users with online ads. The DSA would effectively stop platforms from targeting users with algorithms using data based on their gender, race or religion. Additionally, targeting children with ads will be prohibited.
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The new EU law will impact popular user-generated content platforms including Meta-owned sites Facebook and Instagram, as well as Twitter, TikTok and YouTube. It also comes as lawmakers in the United States are still grappling with how to make big tech companies do better with curbing harmful content.
The EU law was met with praise on the other side of the Atlantic. “This is a huge moment for tech policy around the world,” said Jim Steyer, CEO of the San Francisco-based Common Sense Media, a nonprofit advocacy group for kids and families.
In a statement, Steyer said the law is “a monumental moment in the global fight to protect kids and families from online harms caused by these unregulated platforms.
“European lawmakers have taken a big step towards making the internet safer for kids and teens,” Steyer said. “Lawmakers here at home need to look in the mirror and act swiftly to protect our kids and our democratic future. It’s now time for Congress and the Biden Administration to act.”
Former U.S. Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton encouraged the EU to get a deal done and tweeted Thursday that “For too long, tech platforms have amplified disinformation and extremism with no accountability.”
Also Thursday, former U.S. President Barack Obama told an audience at Stanford University that the tech industry needs more regulation to stop the spread of online disinformation which is putting democracy at risk.
Obama called on tech companies to find a “north star” and “redesign” themselves to focus less on “making money and increasing partisanship” and more on solving the information crisis he said they helped create.
“Do we allow our democracy to wither, or do we make it better?” Obama asked. “That is the choice.”