The European Union has told Google to remove content from Russian state media Russia Today and Sputnik from European search results. The move, part of EU sanctions on the two entities, marks a dramatic escalation in European governments’ attempts to block Russian propaganda on tech platforms, raising new concerns about regulation of free speech.
Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Google-owned YouTube all said last week they would block posts from European accounts of Russian state media in response to public pressure and government demands. On March 2, the European Union issued an official order banning “broadcasts” by Russia Today and Sputnik, but it was unclear how the order would apply to internet companies.
Sanction order applies to search results
Now, documents uploaded by Google to a government request database show that EU officials explain that the order applies not only to the social media accounts of Russia Today and Sputnik, but also to search results and individuals from both media organizations” Copy” content and post on any social media platform.
TJ McIntyre, an associate professor at University College Dublin who studies internet law and civil liberties, said the EU’s position was a “far-reaching, extraordinary interpretation of the law”. Because the document was not made public by the EU, it also raised questions about transparency, McIntyre said. “We know very little about how it actually applies,” he said.
Since the actual sanctions law does not interpret the order in the same way, the interpretation proposed by European officials could be challenged in court.
In fact, the debate over tech platforms, content moderation and government censorship has been going on for years. As propaganda, medical disinformation and violent hate speech have dominated the tech giants’ platforms for years, the companies have gradually added new policies about what they can and cannot do. They also respond to government demands and laws to block content, such as Germany’s legislation banning Nazi imagery.
However, Russia’s attack on Ukraine has created a new set of problems for tech companies. They have to deal with intense public pressure to cut Russia off from the rest of the world while balancing their desire to keep the app open and available to Russian citizens.
Today, a Google Europe search for “Russia Today” does not lead to a link to the agency’s home page, while the same search in the US does. When Google announced it was taking action against the two Russian media outlets on March 1, it only mentioned that it would shut down their YouTube channels in Europe and prevent them from making money from YouTube ads globally.
Spokespeople for Google and the EU were not available for comment. Twitter spokesman Trenton Kennedy referred to the company’s previous statement that EU sanctions require Twitter to remove certain content. Facebook spokesman Andy Stone declined to comment.
Daphne Keller, Google’s former deputy general counsel, said companies like Google respond to many government requests to take down content, but those requests are often limited to specific posts or based on a long-standing law. illegal content. Keller, who served as Google’s associate general counsel until 2015, is now in charge of the Platform Governance Program at Stanford University’s Center for Internet Policy. However, Keller noted that the EU’s sanctions now apply to any content that Russia Today and Sputnik may publish, as well as anyone who reposts their content.
“If regular users like you and me shared a screenshot of Russia Today, they should have deleted it,” Keller said. He pointed out that this would greatly increase the number of times the platform will delete posts, potentially creating “infinite moderation moments.”
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