The soon-to-be-adopted EU Media Freedom Act could lead to users — particularly marginalized groups who are often targeted with hate speech — facing arbitrary content moderation and discrimination.
And with some hoping the law’s effects could extend far beyond Europe by changing company policies in the United States and elsewhere, vulnerable people around the world could suffer.
Millions of EU users rely on online platforms to remove content that violates community standards. But Article 17 of this proposed law deviates from the important principle that online platforms shouldn’t be forced to host any content and instead provides special privileged treatment to certain media outlets.
In practice, EU politicians are requiring “very large online platforms” (VLOPs) like Twitter and Facebook to take specific steps to create a registration portal where media actors can self-declare as independent and regulated providers. Ultimately, this approach leaves it to online platforms to decide the status of a wide range of media actors.
While the initial proposal stipulated that these platforms must then notify them before content is removed, members of the EU Parliament took it a large step further: According to an influential committee’s text version, online platforms are compelled to host media content for up to 24 hours and are prohibited from even labeling or blurring posts — presenting a problematic “must-carry” obligation.
Media freedom must be able to operate outside the confines of political interference to give users more information, not less.
This means that a self-declared media outlet could publish any type of content, while platforms are restrained from marking stories as false or swiftly removing objectionable content that violates their community standards.
This carte blanche exception from content regulation provisions is a reckless approach to protecting media pluralism across the EU. By handing out content moderation privileges and providing anyone the discretion to self-declare as a media outlet, the Media Freedom Act provides a system that can be manipulated by rogue actors and exploited to distort public discourse — undermining the equality of free speech as well as democratic debate.
With the Media Freedom Act, EU politicians are also stifling the ability of platforms to warn users about the content. Under these conditions, harmful state propaganda or government-orchestrated disinformation would remain online — even if the content is demonstrably false — due to the privileged treatment provided by the media exemption. This will enable the spread of hate speech, electoral propaganda, scams, and other forms of damaging disinformation.
In countries where the media is at a “high risk” from state interference, the likelihood of disinformation spreading is exacerbated by the discretionary power to self-declare a provider as a media service. This would allow state media outlets to shape public discourses in alignment with government-oriented propaganda, as well as facilitating a gatekeeping of media content and public information.
The obligations under the Media Freedom Act also add an extra layer to the already-passed and vetted Digital Services Act (DSA), the EU’s new and comprehensive rulebook for platform governance. The proposed bill not only threatens to overwhelm online platforms with new procedures, but also plunges them into a dilemma: While the DSA mandates platforms to avoid discrimination and inconsistency in content moderation — focusing on content types rather than on the publisher — the EU Media Freedom Act incentivizes doing the opposite, requiring arduous communication with media service providers.
It’s likely that influential media outlets, driven by pecuniary interests to keep their content always visible and to seek reimbursement for it, will pursue a fast-track communication channel, potentially at the expense of other news providers.
If adopted in its current form, the EU Media Freedom Act could significantly erode users’ trust in the media’s ability to deliver reliable information and effectively scrutinize political leaders.
Media freedom must be able to operate outside the confines of political interference to give users more information, not less. Article 17 of the European Media Freedom Act must be rejected or at least significantly revised by EU parliamentarians and the EU member states.