Public radio from Western Michigan University 102.1 NPR News | 89.9 Classical WMUK
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Europe has to monitor hate speech and illegal content on social media more closely

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

European lawmakers are targeting Big Tech like never before. The EU recently advanced rules that would force companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to crack down on misinformation and hate speech or face multibillion-dollar fines. NPR tech reporter Bobby Allyn joins us to explain what the new law does and how it could eventually change how everyone uses social media. Good morning, Bobby.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Hey, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So this is called the Digital Services Act, but it isn't the first time European lawmakers have moved to kind of rein in the tech industry, right?

ALLYN: So European regulators have already passed laws aimed at tech privacy and the dominance of Big Tech. So this is actually the third sweeping tech law in recent years. And it's looking at the societal effects of tech platforms, and it's really a huge deal. It affects social media, search engines and lots of other platforms, big and small.

RASCOE: OK, so tell us exactly what this new law calls for.

ALLYN: Sure. So let's focus on, you know, the social media companies that, you know, we all know and use every day - Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter. This law adds a new regulator that the companies will actually be paying for themselves to make sure that illegal content is taken down quickly - stuff like terrorism and hate speech. So, you know, attacking someone based on their race or religion - that's illegal in Europe. The law also makes the companies share tons of internal data with researchers, like how platforms are dealing with misinformation. It also calls for an independent auditor to do an annual review of how Big Tech is complying. But, you know, this isn't some, you know, ho-hum boring audit. If the companies are found to be dragging their feet, they could be fined up to 6% of global revenue. I mean, that's billions of dollars, enough to really hurt these companies. I talked about the new rules with Daphne Keller. She's with Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, and she previously was a top lawyer at Google.

DAPHNE KELLER: It is a very major stick. So to the extent that platforms haven't been taking European regulation seriously enough, this is a reason to take it more seriously.

RASCOE: Yeah, billions of dollars would likely do that. So these stiff penalties would be for keeping up hate speech and other content that's illegal in the EU. Like, what else does the law do?

ALLYN: Yeah, it's a really dizzying law 'cause there's just so many parts to it. But two things that were really interesting to me when I looked over some of the particulars have to do with advertising and what we're served up on social media. The law bans targeting minors with any ads at all and also prevents ads from profiling people based on gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation, which is a huge change from how targeted ads work right now. I mean, social media companies make almost all their money from advertising, so this could really cut into their profits eventually. And on the second point, what the platforms recommend to us - the law says if people want to be able to opt out of personalized feeds - you know, when you go on TikTok or Instagram or something, and you see a social media post that's, like, a little too creepy because it seems to know a little too much about us - that in Europe, people should be able to opt out of that kind of stuff. It gives people the power to say, you know what? I don't like the way that TikTok or YouTube is recommending content to me, so I want out.

RASCOE: That sounds like a pretty big change. Like, how have tech companies responded?

ALLYN: Well, lobbyists for Big Tech fought hard to have the law watered down. They were not successful. All 27 EU countries have agreed on the language of this law. And it's moving towards final approval in the European Parliament. And now the companies say they will all comply with the new rules.

RASCOE: And so here in the U.S., are lawmakers looking at this and maybe potentially thinking about following suit?

ALLYN: Oh, they're absolutely watching, but that might be about it. In Washington, it's all talk and little action when it comes to tech. I mean, consider this fact, Ayesha - in the past 25 years, Congress has passed just two very narrow tech regulations - one about children's privacy and another on sex trafficking. Lawmakers just can't seem to agree on anything else. Now, there is a chance this EU law will prompt copycat legislation in other countries and maybe eventually trigger some kind of action in the U.S. Some experts say if the tech companies are forced to make these big changes for people in Europe, then, you know, it shouldn't be that big of a deal to make it the global norm. So we'll see how that goes. But, you know, Congress may be inspired to pass a new tech regulation. But if that happens, I'll be sure to be back with an update.

RASCOE: And we'll look forward to talking to you again if that's the case. That's NPR tech reporter Bobby Allyn. Thank you so much.

ALLYN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.