While we in the United States, are lucky enough to enjoy true freedom of speech when we are logged onto the internet, this isn’t the case for everyone. In fact, the control and censorship in some countries are incredibly extreme!
Those in positions of power in China, for example, have imposed some extreme restrictions including removing foreign television shows from online streaming platforms, requiring that all users of online forums register with their real names, holding group admins in chat groups responsible for any and all that is said in their online spaces, and, in Beijing, shutting out access to Google and Facebook entirely in the past! Imagine being told that you aren’t permitted to access your favorite social media platforms due to government restrictions. Furthermore, access to unbiased reporting is nearly impossible with government-approved editorial staff required to oversee all online news websites.
While that may seem extreme, it’s important to note that even the smallest of moves in the direction of online censorship and restriction could be a slippery slope towards something much darker and more intense. This is the case with a new proposal introduced in the European Union.
The EU Copyright Directive, Article 13, focuses on reshaping the current copyright laws, bringing them into the internet age. It attempts to do so by establishing greater regulations for the online platforms that allow for the sharing of protected content. It also discusses what measures should be used in order to fairly and appropriately enforce this regulation.
The Article states that platform providers should “take measures to ensure the functioning of agreements concluded with rightholders for the use of their works or other subject-matter or to prevent the availability on their services of works or other subject-matter identified by rightholders through the cooperation with the service providers.”
What does this mean for internet users in the EU? All content that is uploaded to any online platform will have to be monitored and removed if it violates existing copyright. For example, if someone was to upload a protected image to Facebook, it would be the responsibility of the platform to catch that this had been uploaded and remove it promptly in order to avoid potentially expensive obligations. This is particularly challenging as many of the most popular memes that circulate the social media platforms involve taking someone else’s original content and applying text, which would violate these regulations. It is for this reason that many who oppose the directive refer to Article 13 as ‘The Death of Memes.’
However, there is a bigger risk to consider if Article 13 is passed. The number of images uploaded on the larger online platforms including Facebook and Twitter is far higher than could be monitored and regulated manually. For this reason, algorithms would have to be established that could detect and remove potential risks automatically. To comply with this, critics state, would violate the freedom of expression as it’s outlined in Article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. A letter from the Liberties and EDRi back in October stated, “Article 13 of the proposal on Copyright in the Digital Single Market include obligations on internet companies that would be impossible to respect without the imposition of excessive restrictions on citizens’ fundamental rights.”
This may also be an indication of what is to come moving forward. If the algorithms are established to monitor all content, what else could it be used on moving forward? Regulators may start in a well-meaning manner, using the technology to remove ‘blatantly racist or sexist’ posts or ‘hate speech,’ but surely with the individuals in power today, how long will it be before it is then used to remove anything that the government opposes, or, as we know it in the United States, ‘fake news.’ It’s a slippery slope, and we need to be aware of what is happening.
Image via The Event Chronicle