The European Union really wants tech companies to get their shit together when it comes to policing content on their platforms. On Thursday, it issued new guidelines for how companies like Twitter, Google, and Facebook should handle illegal content on its European websites: quickly, proactively, and with human oversight.
The European Commission, the EU’s executive body, recommended that tech companies scrub any illegal content—including terrorist material, child pornography, and hate speech—from their platforms within an hour of it being reported by law enforcement officials. Additionally, the Commission said it would like to see greater use of both “proactive measures, including automated detection” and humans supervisors “to avoid unintended or erroneous removal of content which is not illegal.”
It’s worth emphasizing these guidelines are strictly guidelines—for now. Tech companies are not legally bound by the new recommendations, but the Commission has vowed to monitor their effect and drop the hammer with “necessary legislation” if they fail to see the desired results.
And this isn’t the first time the Commission has tried to threaten tech giants with non-binding recommendations. In September of last year, it released guidelines for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Microsoft that outlined ways in which the companies can better crack down on illegal hate speech. And in December of 2016, it dragged these same companies for not effectively complying with a code of conduct they signed in May of that year, which urged them to handle illegal hate speech within 24 hours.
Given that a voluntary agreement to remove vile content within 24 hours proved futile, it’s unclear why tech firms would now, out of the goodness of their hearts, comply with the one-hour recommendation. The Commission (like the platforms themselves) seems to be betting big on automation.
Still, there is definitely a need for tech companies to act with a greater sense of urgency—an hour on the internet can be like a lifetime—and it’s better to have a proposed time limit than simply wait for companies to react to public pressure.