The European Union (EU) on Saturday reached on a deal with landmark legislation that would force Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other internet services to combat misinformation, disclose how their services amplify divisive content and stop targeting online ads based on a person’s ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.
The legislation would aim to end an era of self-regulation in which tech companies set their own policies about what content could stay up or be taken down. It stands out from other regulatory attempts by addressing online speech, an area that is largely off limits in the United States because of First Amendment protections. Google, which owns YouTube, and Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, would face yearly audits for “systemic risks” linked to their businesses, while Amazon would confront new rules to stop the sale of illegal products.
The new law, Digital Services Act, is intended to address social media’s societal harms by requiring companies to more aggressively police their platforms for illicit content or risk billions of dollars in fines. Tech companies would be compelled to set up new policies and procedures to remove flagged hate speech, terrorist propaganda and other material defined as illegal by countries within the European Union.
Together, the new laws underscore how Europe is setting the standard for tech regulation globally. Frustrated by anticompetitive behavior, social media’s effect on elections and privacy-invading business models, officials spent more than a year negotiating policies that give them broad new powers to crack down on tech giants that are worth trillions of dollars and that are used by billions of people for communication, entertainment, payments and news.
This will be a model,” Alexandra Geese, a Green party member of the European Parliament from Germany, said of the new law. Ms. Geese, who helped draft the Digital Services Act, said she had already spoken with legislators in Japan, India and other countries about the legislation.
“Platforms should be transparent about their content moderation decisions, prevent dangerous disinformation from going viral and avoid unsafe products being offered on marketplaces,” said Margrethe Vestager, who has spearheaded much of the bloc’s work to regulate the tech industry as the executive vice president of the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union.