EU to give internet firms only one hour’s notice to remove extremist content

European Commission president says companies could be fined up to 4% of annual turnover if they don't curb incitement to terror

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker delivers his State of the Union speech at the European Parliament on September 12, 2018, in Strasbourg, eastern France. (AFP PHOTO / FREDERICK FLORIN)

The European Commission is to propose new laws giving internet companies only one hour after it is reported to remove extremist content or face fines, its president said Wednesday.

Google, Facebook, Twitter and other companies were warned in March that if they didn’t speed up their removal of such content they would face legislation forcing them to do so, but regulators have not seen enough progress being made, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in his annual state of the union speech.

He said that the Commission will propose that any content which incites or encourages terrorism must be removed within an hour. Companies that repeatedly fail to comply may be fined up to four percent of their annual global turnover.

The proposed legislation still requires backing from the member nations of the European Union and from the European Parliament.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg makes the keynote speech at F8, theFacebook’s developer conference, May 1, 2018, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Juncker also said he wants internet firms to be more transparent, and provide annual reports showing their efforts to tackle extremism.

Israel has long accused Facebook of facilitating Palestinian incitement against Israelis, especially following a wave of hundreds of attacks that began in October 2015, which security services said was fueled by online incitement.

Earlier this year, Israel almost passed the so-called Facebook bill, which would allow the state to seek court orders to force the social media giant to remove certain content based on police recommendations. However it was pulled at the last moment due to its overreaching language, which would have led to one of the strictest censorship policies in the world.

The government had said the bill would only be invoked in cases of suspected incitement, where there is a real possibility that the material in question endangers the public or national security.

Additionally, in April, families of five Americans murdered or injured in recent Palestinian terror attacks in Israel filed a billion-dollar lawsuit against Facebook for failing to ban the Gaza-based terror group Hamas from using its social media platform.

“Facebook has knowingly provided material support and resources to Hamas in the form of Facebook’s online social media network platform and communication services,” a press release issued by the plaintiffs said. “Hamas has used and relied on Facebook’s online social network platform and communications services as among its most important tools to facilitate and carry out its terrorist activity.”

Facebook has in the past dismissed an Israeli government claim that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg had “some of the blood” of an Israeli terror victim on his hands, because the platform did not censor Palestinian incitement and hate speech.

In a 2016 Hebrew-language statement, the company asserted that it works “on a regular basis with security organizations and policy makers throughout the world, including in Israel, in order to ensure that people know how to use Facebook safely.

“There is no room on our platform for content that encourages violence, direct threats, terror or verbal abuse. We have an array of clear-cut community guidelines meant to help people understand what is permitted on Facebook, and we call on people to make use of our reporting tools if they come across content that they believe violates these guidelines, so that we can evaluate each incident and take swift action,” Facebook said.

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