European Parliament accepts controversial regulation on removal of terrorist content online

On the 28th of April, the European Parliament accepted a new regulation aimed at preventing the dissemination of terrorist content on social media. The regulation – often referred to as TERREG – has been subject to intense discussions within the EU during the last few years. The Parliament’s final decision to accept the regulation signifies the end of the legislative process.

TERREG – or the Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on addressing the dissemination of terrorist content online – was originally proposed by the European Commission during an EU Leader’s meeting in September 2018. The aim was to address the responsibility of internet platforms when hosting third party content used for terrorist solicitation – especially in light of the propaganda videos that had recently been circulated on video streaming platforms by terror group IS.

Among the proposals in the draft regulation was an obligation for so-called hosting services – social media platforms, but also file sharing services and cloud services that publish user generated content on the request of users – to remove content from their platforms following an order issued by a competent authority in any EU member state. The content was to be removed within an hour of receiving the order.

The proposal also included an obligation for platforms to take “proactive measures” to prevent the distribution of terrorist content through their services. The wording was taken by many to imply that platforms would be forced to deploy uploading filters that automatically screen, classify, and remove content uploaded to the platform.

The Commission’s proposal was subject to much criticism, both from civil rights organisations and members of the European Parliament. Critics deemed e g that the proposed measures would give rise to disproportionate restrictions in freedom of expression and freedom of information, especially considering the implied obligation for platforms to deploy uploading filters, and the lack of exemptions in the regulation for journalistic or artistic content.

After more than two years of discussions between the Commission, Parliament and Council, the EU legislative institutions were able to reach an agreement in principle by the end of 2020. In March 2021, the Council presented a revised draft regulation.

The new proposal retained the so-called “one hour rule”. However, an exemption was made in the regulation regarding content published for journalistic, artistic, educational or research purposes. The new proposal also made clear that platforms would not be obliged to deploy uploading filters; the reference to “proactive measure” was changed to “specific measures”. The definition of “terrorist content” has also been adjusted and clarified during the legislative process.

The European Parliament was expected to vote on the new proposal by the end of April. But on Wednesday last week, it was announced that the regulation had already been accepted – without a plenary vote (where all members of Parliament participate). In the final vote, which took place in the Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), 54 members voted in favour of the proposal, while 14 members voted against it.

TERREG is expected to be published in the Official Journal of the European Union within short. The regulation will enter into force twenty days after publication and will be directly applicable within EU member states twelve months later.