U.S. Tech Giants Face a Future Shaped by Europe

Silicon Valley is a uniquely American creation, the product of an entrepreneurial spirit and no-holds-barred capitalism that now drives many aspects of modern life.

But the likes of Facebook, Google and Apple are increasingly facing an uncomfortable truth: it is Europe's culture of tougher oversight of companies, not America's laissez-faire attitude, which could soon rule their industry as governments seek to combat fake news and prevent extremists from using the internet to fan the flames of hatred.

While the U.S. has largely relied on market forces to regulate content in a country where free speech is revered, European officials have shown they are willing to act. Germany recently passed a law imposing fines of up to 50 million euros ($59 million) on websites that don't remove hate speech within 24 hours. British Prime Minister Theresa May wants companies to take down extremist material within two hours. And across the EU, Google has for years been obliged to remove search results if there is a legitimate complaint about the content's veracity or relevance.

"I anticipate the EU will be where many of these issues get played out," said Sarah T. Roberts, a professor of information studies at UCLA who has studied efforts to monitor and vet internet content. Objectionable content "is the biggest problem going forward. It's no longer acceptable for the firms to say that they can't do anything about it."

How closely to manage the massive amounts of content on the internet has become a pressing question in the U.S. since it was revealed that Russian agencies took out thousands of ads on social media during the presidential campaign, reaching some 10 million people on Facebook alone.

That comes on top of the existing concerns about preventing extremist attacks. This month, three men were arrested after allegedly using smartphone messaging apps to plot attacks...

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