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EU threatens big tech companies with 'stricter' regulation following meeting with Zuckerberg

Zuckerberg has recently asked governments to strengthen how online media is regulated.

Image: DPA/PA Images

A TOP EU official for digital policy has warned that big tech companies could face tougher rules and penalties in Europe if they failed to adequately curb hate speech and disinformation.

“If all the platforms operating on the European continent do not respect the conditions that I have just outlined, yes, we will be forced to intervene in a stricter way,” EU commissioner Thierry Breton warned after a meeting with Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg in Brussels.

Zuckerberg has been on a tour of meetings across Europe where he is calling on governments to double down their efforts to regulate online media. 

In his meetings, the founder of the world’s biggest social network site, which also owns Instagram and Whatsapp, emphasised the importance of better controlling of hate speech and disinformation on platforms – all without muzzling free speech.

He raised the topic with European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova, a top Brussels official who became an outspoken critic of Facebook after the Cambridge Analytica data scandal in 2018.

In a paper submitted to Jourova, Facebook stressed that the way to limit unwanted speech was to make sure that platforms put the right systems in place, not by holding them liable for the speech itself.

“Publisher liability laws that punish the publication of illegal speech are unsuitable for the internet landscape,” the paper said.

Online content “may require a new type of regulator,” Facebook said.

The EU Commissioner Thierry Breton said the proposals by Facebook were “interesting” but “it’s not enough: too slow, too low in terms of responsibilities.”

Facebook needs “to be more specific on the responsibility and market dominance was not mentioned,” he added.

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Zuckerberg came to EU headquarters as Brussels prepares to unveil a highly anticipated strategy to regulate artificial intelligence. Google boss Sundar Pichai made a similar visit in January and called on Brussels to tread carefully in regulating AI.

With AI in mind, Zuckerberg also met with Commission Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager, another leading scourge of big tech, who has inflicted billions of euros in anti-trust fines on Google.  

Her proposal on AI, due on Wednesday, was expected to pursue a “risk-based” approach similar to how Europe approaches food safety concerns, such as GMOs and certain chemicals.

Vestager has told reporters she would back away from a ban on facial recognition technology and instead ask companies and authorities to think hard before deploying it.

© – AFP 2020 

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