Manage harmful content while protecting freedom of expression

The Legal Affairs Committee insists on stricter conditions for targeted ads and more control over what users see online

The Legal Affairs Committee calls on the Commission to review existing laws applicable to online providers and put forward new legislation on online content management, so that a clear distinction between illegal and harmful content is in place. The adopted legislative initiative will contribute to the upcoming Commission’s Digital Services Act (DSA) package.

First and foremost, the text calls for EU-wide standards on how hosting platforms should moderate content and apply the so-called “notice and action” mechanisms. These new rules on content moderation, in addition to judicial redress, should provide legal clarity for platforms and guarantees for fundamental rights of users, MEPs say.

Furtherrmore, when content is flagged or taken down, users should be notified and able to seek redress through a national dispute settlement body. However, a final decision should be taken by an independent judiciary and not fall on private undertakings.

“We do not want private companies to police the internet”, said rapporteur Tiemo Wölken (S&D, DE) after the vote.

To ensure platforms comply, the Commission should assess options for a European entity to monitor and impose fines, such as an EU body or a coordinated network of national authorities, MEPs propose.

When it comes to self-regulation, MEPs are firm that platforms should not employ upload filters or any form of ex-ante content control for harmful or illegal content.

“We need to address the business practice of selling personalised targeted ads and the impact this has on the spread of harmful content”, said Wölken at a press conference. According to him, this could be achieved by providing users with more control over what they see online, including the possibility to opt-out of content curation altogether.

“The idea is not to censor unwanted content, but to make users less dependent on the algorithms that reward attention-seeking content, thus increasing their freedom of information”, he said.

Targeted advertising must also be regulated more strictly in favour of less intrusive, contextualised forms of advertising that require less data and does not depend on previous user interaction with content. Being shown personalised advertising should depend on users’ free, informed and unambiguous consent.

The aforementioned legislative initiative, along with recommendations from the Internal Market and Civil Liberties committees, will feed the upcoming Commission’s Digital Services Act package, expected before the end of the year.

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