[Chronique de Pierre Trudel] Civilize the Internet in the European way

There is no good reason why laws that protect the dignity, reputation, or privacy of people off the Internet should not be enforced when it comes to activities that are done on the Internet. In this spirit, the European authorities have agreed to introduce legislation on online services. It is about updating the rules established at the turn of the century and that left a lot of room for what have become megaplatforms such as Twitter, TikTok, Google or Facebook. These measures deserve to be examined closely at a time when billionaire Elon Musk is deciding to buy ownership of the social network Twitter to make it, he says, a “paradise” of unlimited freedom of expression.

The European project recalls that, contrary to the fantasies of those who imagine that there are no laws on the Internet, there is no absolute freedom. It sets rules that will encourage platforms to do everything possible to limit abusive practices. The legislation will apply to all digital services that connect consumers with providers of goods, services or content. It will implement procedures to remove illegal content more quickly and protect the fundamental rights of online users.

The obligations imposed on companies will be proportional to the role they play, their size and their weight in the online ecosystem. The measures are especially aimed at online services such as the major search engines used by more than 10% of the 450 million consumers in the European Union, to whom the legislation recognizes a greater responsibility in the fight against illegal content. on line. Ultimately, the more influence a company has, the more it has to identify and manage the risks associated with the activities it allows for its platforms.

Similarly, online platforms that bring together vendors and consumers, such as online markets, app stores, collaborative economy platforms, and social networking platforms, will be subject to regulation. This will also be the case for very large online platforms that could pose particular risks in terms of the dissemination of illegal content and social harm.

Measures against illegal content

The proposed legislation includes measures to deal with illegal goods, services or content online. For example, this could include mechanisms that allow users to easily report this content and platforms to cooperate with “trusted bookmarks.” There are also obligations regarding the traceability of companies active in online markets. The days when scammers could operate online and camouflage themselves with impunity may be coming to an end.

The European project also includes measures to empower users and civil society, such as the ability to challenge content moderation decisions made by platforms and seek redress, either through a mediation mechanism or through an appeal to a judge. . The platforms are spaces belonging to private companies, but there are activities that concern the public. When censorship measures are imposed, it must be in accordance with the law and validated by independent judges.

With regard to big data, which is the main fuel for generating value in connected environments, the European project includes provisions to grant authorized researchers access to key data from larger platforms and to allow NGOs to access the data. in order to better understand the evolution of online risks.

Transparency measures are also envisaged for online platforms with respect to various aspects of their technical operation, including the algorithms used to recommend content or products to users. This may include mechanisms for assessing and mitigating risks, such as requiring very large platforms and large online search engines to prevent misuse of their systems by taking risk-proportional precautions and requiring independent audits of their risk management system.

If adopted, this European Union project has a good chance of gaining momentum beyond European territory. Already, European regulations on personal data protection tend to be the standard to be respected by all online businesses that want to be serious in their commitments to protect the privacy of their users. It is expected that this regulation of harmful content will provide the main basis for a regulatory framework in order to restore an Internet environment in which it is possible to freely disseminate all ideas, but within the limits set by law. Laws that, let us remember, must be considered reasonable and justifiable in a democratic society.

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