Samuel Paty, the murdered French teacher, is not the first victim of internet users determined to silence the defenders of freedom. By disclosing his name and address on social media, extremists used the internet to incite an attack. It is high time for Europe to take concrete action to tackle this hatred, which is often hidden behind pseudonyms. The Digital Services Package, which the Commission is set to propose in the near future, is the opportunity to do just that.
On 20 October 2020, French Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Geoffroy Didier of the Group of the European People’s Party, addressed a written parliamentary question to the European Commission. MEP Didier enquired “does the Commission intend to introduce an obligation for social networks to record a copy of the holder’s identity card when creating an account?” and ‘while the use of a pseudonym must be possible, full anonymity can no longer be justified”.
Lastly, MEP Didier asked the Commission “will it take steps to ensure that all social networks are required to display on their home page a link for filing a preliminary complaint online, where such a possibility exists?” concluding that the “victims need to be given the capacity to respond”.
In his ending MEP Didier enquired “does the Commission intend to create an intermediate status between host and publisher? Under this status, as soon as a serious threat or insult is posted, if the platform does nothing, is slow to react or fails to cooperate, it could be considered an accomplice under the law”.
On 03 December, Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton, responded on behalf of the European Commission. He declared that “the Commission has been taking action against different types of illegal content online through various initiatives aimed at tackling illegal content, including terrorist content and illegal hate speech”.
Commissioner Breton reported that “these sectorial initiatives will be further reinforced by the proposal on a Digital Services Act” and “it will propose harmonising a clear set of due diligence obligations for online platforms to increase the safety of users online, including notice-and-action procedures for illegal content, redress, transparency and accountability measures as regards content moderation policies, and cooperation obligations”. He further added “the proposal aims to empower users to take action on content and behaviour which they deem illegal and ensure companies across the EU can react with greater transparency and accountability”.
“The Digital Services Act aims to maintain the important balance set out in the eCommerce Directive as regards the exemption of liability, also by ensuring that it does not cover services which are knowingly part of the illegal activities” asserted Commissioner Breton.
Finally, he underlined that “an obligation to verify all users of all online platforms by means of an official identity card would require a thorough assessment and balancing of the various fundamental rights at stake, including possible ‘chilling effects’ on the freedom of expression” and “where it comes to the identification of a specific subset of users, notably the business users of online marketplaces, the Commission intends to propose a Know Your Business Customer Obligation in the Digital Services Act”.
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