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EU tells Facebook and Twitter: Obey us or we'll start regulating

This article is all over the place...

Contradicts itself in consecutive paragraphs.

"These, .. are intended as much as a chance for the EU to flex its regulatory muscles as to reign in the worst excesses of the American companies that dominate today's consumer-facing World Wide Web.

Both Facebook and Twitter have been dogged by scandal after scandal in recent years, including serving as platforms for Russian disinformation campaigns during last year's US elections."

Personally, I believe that compelling companies to be responsible for their content, and to pay tax on profits made in the EU is a good thing.

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Re: This article is all over the place...

"Personally, I believe that compelling companies to be responsible for their content"

Personally, I'm against policing free speech unless it's direct incitement to violence. But if FB/Twitter can police their network to make sure that (gods forbid) no naked boobage ever sullies their platform, they can damn well clean up the hate speech as well.

"...and to pay tax on profits made in the EU is a good thing"

Hear, hear!

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Re: This article is all over the place...

Personally, I believe that compelling companies to be responsible for their content, and to pay tax on profits made in the EU is a good thing.

Companies (including the web giants) are already taxed on *profits* (leaving aside the issue of where those profits are taxed). What the EU proposes is a general tax on *turnover*, which is a magnitude larger than profit. And given the usual tit-for-tat antics, this will eventually turn around to the US wanting to do the same with any EU-based organisations doing business in the US.

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@dave93

"Personally, I believe that compelling companies to be responsible for their content, and to pay tax on profits made in the EU is a good thing."

It's not, it's the easy and plain out lazy way out. Merely done with dollar signs in their eyes.

Think about it: it's not the companies who wrote that stuff. How does fining the companies actually change anything when it comes to radicalization and terrorism threats which surround the author(s)?

People should be held accountable for their own actions, and when companies are operating as the messenger then they should be treated as such.

When you get a nasty e-mail are you going to complain to your Internet provider?

When you're being harassed through snail-mail are you going to tell your lawyer to sue the postal service?

Because that's exactly what the EU is trying to do here.

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Re: This article is all over the place...

are already taxed on *profits*<p>

However, this is based on a definition of profits that is several hundred years out of date. It has long been the practice of multinationals to purposely move value around the world for the sole purpose of evading their tax responsibilities or boosting their earnings in one country at the expense of others for the benefit of those on high bonuses.

It is almost 50 years ago that I heard that a large company was deliberately moving value between their subsidiaries such at at "year end" (in a different quarter in different countries) was concealed from the tax man, yet visible to the credit rating agencies. Since the person that told me was one of the auditors, we can be quite sure that auditors not only knew about it, but were advising on how to do it.

Separately, there is a strong argument for small businesses (here in the UK) to be offered the choice of a turnover tax: If they opt for it, it could be deducted at source by their banks, and exempting them from the need for any other tax-related paperwork. If they opt for this, it should not only be VAT and corporation tax, but also for employer's and employees NI, and income tax. The purpose being to eliminate the cost of accountancy and compliance work, not to change the anticipated tax take. However, it would be revealing to see where HMRC think the percentage should be - I have been in several small companies where the effective tax rate exceeded 100% of turnover in some quarters.

In the UK, retained profits are normally subject to corporation tax, and surely it is not beyond the whit of lawyers and accountants to come up with weasel words to make sure that the Unicorns get their comeuppance.

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Hah

"Translation: bend the knee to us or we will harm your business with new laws targeting you."

And this is a shock to who? They did this to the bankers and then wonder why they cannot just dictate London moves. They dictate and micromanage and assume people will fall under it. This is fine by us, we are rejoining the rest of the world. Maybe businesses in the EU who would like to remain in Europe but get from under EU rule (and troubles) could be persuaded to move here.

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Re: Hah

"Maybe businesses in the EU who would like to remain in Europe but get from under EU rule (and troubles) could be persuaded to move here."

Reality is the opposite - international businesses are planning to move from UK to EU post-Brexit. No-one is planning to move the other way

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Anonymous Coward

Too little too late...

* Hate to say it, but Trump is doing a better job of applying thumbscrews to Zuk right now. There's a growing rift between the US and EU regarding tech giants. But the politicians / legislators are doing nothing but sounding off.

* What we need are ironclad privacy laws, ironclad closure of tax loopholes, and ironclad removal of toxic material. So what do have ~5 years on from when these debates first started? Absolutely nothing!

* Wake up EU, stop playing the nice card. US tech giants simply don't deserve it! The truth is the EU has been Bending-the-Knee to America-Inc. for too long. It has to stop, America's model of the world & leadership is broken!

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I assume the non documented reason for this is to allow the commish to block all adverse comments about what it is doing and the habits of the individual commissioners. They can't stand criticism because they are 'always right and good'.

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Mushroom

"illegal content inciting hatred, violence and terrorism online"

and which "illegal content" would THAT be?

Is it *ILLEGAL* in the EU to speak your mind, when "they" don't agree with you?

OK they won't admit it's going in this direction, but it's going in this direction. Just like when the howler monkeys do the downvote poo-slinging, the EU socialists are going to SUPPRESS free expression, and they'll use corporations to do it.

If content is "illegal", why not prosecute the person who posted it? Oops, is that person OUTSIDE OF THE EU? Well, TOO! FREAKING! BAD!!!

The only people inciting HATRED VIOLENCE and TERRORISM are those who seek to PREVENT FREE SPEECH. This is what we get from the Califate Daesh-bags to left wing SOCIALIST "ANTIFA" types. The LAST thing that THEY want is someone expressing an opinion that THEY do not agree with, ESPECIALLY without THEM doing mud-slinging, downvotes, gang-up behavior, and outright BULLYING in one form or another, to SILENCE opposing ideas.

that's how they operate

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Re: "illegal content inciting hatred, violence and terrorism online"

That's how nearly every fsckr operates.

Open minded and friendly discussion ending in mutual acceptance of logic and the evidence has never held any credence with those whom have an agenda. (most people have an agenda, ALL nations HAVE an agenda).

To paraphrase Roger Waters.

"Each man has his price bob and your's for most it's pretty low"

It is generally illegal everywhere to stand and shout about how you disagree with the controlling powers' view, attitude or actions.

You have no freedom. You did not feel it hit your ass as it left the room?

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Happy

Disinformation campaigns

I have no doubt Russian interests meddled in the US election and in France and Germany, but what about the UK. Do people assume Brexit had no Russian help. Any information about that.

Have we by accident created Monsters with Facebook and Twitter because we are so weak at spotting disinformation.

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Re: Disinformation campaigns

I suspect Russian inteligence was confused about whether a Britain outside the EU trying to recreate the glories of empire would be more fun than a Britain to disrupt the EU from within

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Re: Disinformation campaigns

@ Lars

"I have no doubt Russian interests meddled in the US election and in France and Germany, but what about the UK. Do people assume Brexit had no Russian help."

It is strange hearing the reds under the bed issue in Europe. I know it was a thing for the US who's primary adversary was the USSR but in Europe it was more the irrational fear of the right because of nazism.

I wonder is this the new excuse to justify a terrible campaign, rigged vote, extreme FUD and including direct threats against the population and yet losing the brexit vote? Are the Russians now the convenient excuse for the EU failing and coming apart?

I have no doubt the EU can inflict harm upon itself. Looking at recent history (as it has only existed fairly recently) it has proven that considerably.

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I'm worried about the EU forcing prior restraint and self-censorship

Hate speech? What's that? Does that involve saying that EU officials are corrupt and should be arrested? Because that may be (from my viewpoint) overstatement and hyperbole, but it is legitimate political speech.

My rule is:

-Saying odious things about group A should be legal, barring incitement to violence

-Saying odious things about group A and then encouraging people to beat/rob/kill/harass them should be illegal.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I'm worried about the EU forcing prior restraint and self-censorship

-Saying odious things about group A should be legal, barring incitement to violence

Except depending on what it is you say about who, you could fall foul of laws such as the Race Relations Act prohibits. There's a few such laws covering race, gender, disability, etc.

These laws are there for the benefit of everyone, not just "ethnic minorities". They're needed because there's some members of society (generally categorised as the scum of the earth) who won't conduct themselves in a civil manner, in fact rather the opposite to the detriment of others. These laws are a very good thing.

The problem for Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, YouTube is that their platforms make it possible to break such laws with no real prospect of being prosecuted. You can say almost anything you like on Twitter about anyone to anyone, there's little anyone can do to actually positively identify you with sufficient rigour for a prosecution to stand up.

So the scum of the earth take the opportunity to behave appallingly, and everyone is fed up with it. Throw in the other problems (terrorism, foreign political influence, etc) and it's no wonder law enforcement agencies and politicians all over the world are beginning to act.

Fundamental Problem

The fundamental problem for the social media companies is that they're founded in America, but operate globally. The companies, born into that American environment, have tried to operate globally as they can in America. America has it's laws on what speech it thinks is permissible in a settled society (it seemingly doesn't have any), but most other countries seek to be rather more proactive in stamping out uncivilised behaviour.

The homogeneity that is Facebook, Twitter, etc is fundamentally incompatible with most other countries' laws on what speech is permitted.

The EU countries and the UK are merely moving to enforce their pre-existing laws on permitted speech. This is a good thing for society as a whole. The companies will have to bend with that, but doing so means an end to their homogeneous, one-service-fits-all approach to global service provision. They're going to have to operate in different ways in different countries.

A Different Way to Operate

Basically, in Europe and the UK to guarantee avoiding carrying the can for their user's content (which is where things are heading), the companies are going to have to be able to pass the buck on to those users in a way that satisfies the legal authorities (i.e. it has to become easier to prosecute users who break the law). Realistically that means an end to anonymous, free accounts. They'd have to know the full legal ID of their users. That can most easily be established via a financial transaction. They have to stop being free-to-use, and become paid-for services.

Note that's not the same as you're real name being displayed on the site. It's simply that if the police come asking "who is that scumbag?" the companies can say with a high degree of certainty who the user really (here's their credit card number, here's the name on their account, here's the address their card is registered, etc).

Armed with a user's real ID and charging for the service, the companies can: 1) keep banned users off their sites, 2) ditch the data-grabbing and advertising analytics they currently depend on to raise revenue, 3) become much more trusted by their users and by governments, 4) pay tax.

Personally speaking I think it would be good. Would I pay £5 per year to use all of Google, with a guarantee that they don't mine my data and don't use me as a product in the advertising market? Probably yes. Would I pay for WhatsApp? Well, we used to. BBM? Used to be £5 / month in the old days. Twitter? Nope. Facebook? Hmmmmm. Skype?

And that's the problem. A way out - to become paid for - works for some companies, but will probably kill others. It would reduce the choice of platforms; one or two would probably dominate at the expense of the others. Facebook and Twitter know that their services are pretty fundamentally not worth anyone's money, so unsurprisingly they're the ones making the most noise about things.

If that's the way it goes, the companies that survive are on to a good thing. They can throw out the vast bulk of their analytics infrastructure for a start, saving an absolute ton of cash.

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On the right track but.....

The tech giants are making Billions of Euros and yet seem to be capable of bending laws as required... I agree that sometime things go too far, freedom of speech should not be the equivalent to freedom to say anything at anytime.. But where should the line be drawn..

I am probably as much, if not more against a multitude of what is happening in this "global" world but I usually know when to shut my mouth.. In the past I have paid dearly, and I have the physical scars to show what opening one's mouth to large can result in... In other words I am probably like many of you out there..

The difference lies in the fact that I am not profiting from the system as many of the tech giants are.. I don't throw my weight about as though I don't care and I certainly dont have the means to pay the lawyers who somehow manage to wangle the courts as required.

But, I digress, the internet has become a free for all, whereby is it Ok to be a keyboard warrior, where it is Ok to destroy the lives of others without sanction.. and this is where the Tech Giants definitely have a role to play.. Their billions should not be made from the sufferance of others, they have the means to avoid many situations and yet they react only when financial impact of laid upon them...

I am not for Stalinist totalitarianism or dictatorial procedures but at the same time I don't agree with the free for all approach that means profit for the giants at any means..

The giants do have a responsibility to take a positive attitude towards governance, without stifling the masses but at the same time retaining a modicum of level headedness.

Can the EU push their agenda forward correctly, maybe, maybe not, but I definitely recommend that something is done to avoid a total catastrophy and the eventual governance by some "governmental agency numpties".

The solutions are not obvious but that should stop us from trying...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: On the right track but.....

The tech giants are making Billions of Euros and yet seem to be capable of bending laws as required... I agree that sometime things go too far, freedom of speech should not be the equivalent to freedom to say anything at anytime.. But where should the line be drawn..

That's easy. The Line is defined by a country's current laws.

As you say, the companies are trying to pretend that the American line is the line that should be drawn everywhere. Ooops!

Interestingly there's moves in America to change the Communications Decency Act (or whatever it's called) with regard to companies being held responsible for certain types of illegal content, specifically paedophilia.

The problem for the companies is that any kind of change to the Act pushing responsibility for some content on to themselves is just as difficult to comply with as if they were held responsible for all content.

So even in America, things are changing that could make it very difficult for the companies to continue to operate as they currently are. We are probably going to witness the unedifying spectacle of Zuk trying to justify being against what most people will see as sensible anti-paedophilia legislation...

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And what happens when a Government decides to oppress dissent by flagging the posts of everything it disagrees with ?

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Oh that's easy, you find it really difficult to hold a referendum.

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Anonymous Coward

Just shut down Twitter

I certainly would not want to see Beefy Bothams cock again.

This is a good thing. Bravo.

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Facepalm

Another day, another shot fired at companies operating outside the law...

There, FTFY

The companies knew this was coming - heck, the rules were outlined a couple of years back and came to a head earlier this year. Now that they have given the platforms time to react and they are ignoring the law, they are threatening to enforce the law.

It doesn't say they will enact new laws aimed directly at the platforms, the laws are already there. They just need to be enforced, if the companies keep ignoring the law.

Everybody keeps going on about the EU targeting "US mega-corps", but seem to miss the whole point of it being the US mega-corps being at fault in the first place for ignoring the law.

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Censorship

All too easy for these sort of things being made with good intentions but acting as a massive censorship regime.

You don't even have to look at obvi8osuly dodgy places like Turkey where any Erdogan critic equates to being a terrorist criminal, look at teh Robin Hood airport tweet case, no place for humour (bad, dark, exasperated however you wnat to describe that example (me, I would pick harmless)), no place for nuanced interpretation.

On the ironic censorship road, I was reading a newspaper story today where Manchester Uni (via Israeli Embassy pressure about UK incitement / race relation laws) altered the little of a talk as it was "anti Semitic".

The talk was given by a Jewish survivor of Nazi WWII who's original speech title was putting forward the point that Israels treatment of Palestinians mirrored the Nazi treatment of Jews.

Controversial opinion? Possibly, but not anti Semitic (is criticising a country criticising a "race"? - if I moan about the UK govt am I thus abuse the many different "races" who live here? no)

Another recent controversial case was that of Sarah Champion MP (who claimed a cultural element in Pakistani gangs targeting white females for child abuse). Champion is MP for Rotherham where some of these child / sexual abuse incidents occurred, and was forced to resign her shadow cabinet role.

Again, another arguably controversial view, but these controversial but often important questions / comments are the type of thing that will start to disappear when such censorship rules kick in.

A couple of my mates would have to change their greetings to each other (one of Indian heritage, the other Jewish, Indian person always addresses Jewish guy as "Yid", Jewish guy addresses Indian guy as "Paki" (this all started as "in joke" about reclaiming words used as insults against them - Indian person, not of Pakistani heritage, but would always get "Paki" as an insult if subjected to racist abuse).

Similarly, will there be ethnicity checks on social media exchanges between people (both parties "black" use of N word is positive, other combinations negative?)

There are plenty of (albeit often badly worded / interpreted) laws out there to go after genuine nasty abuse, and should be easy to go after the person (not the platform)

Caveat : Using anti Semitic in the generally accepted term though I'm aware it's a poor phrase as Semitic doe not necessarily mean Jewish

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The EU said that platforms should appoint dedicated points of contact for police forces and other State agencies to talk to about illegal content

Holy guacamole!

I assumed these gigantic companies had something like that in place all along!

I guess the police should go straight to the top then, which should get their attention.

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Restrictions on speech need to be balanced by freedom of speech

If the things people say on private platforms is considered public speech, then this speech needs to have the same human rights protection that normal public speech has.

Focusing only on restricting people's speech, without any balance to ensure that people are free to say legitimate things, is what dictatorial governments normally do.

If the law extends to speech hosted at private companies, then the human rights protection for freedom of speech should extend there too. Or else you end up with privatized dictatorship, where governments subcontract dictatorship to private entities to get around democracy and human rights protections.

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