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Recently there have been a flurry of proposals to “regulate the internet”, which in practice boils down to more narrowly regulating online content. These proposals often emerge after high-profile revelations related to the role of online intermediaries in facilitating access to illegal or undefined harmful content.

In order to suggest a principles-based approach to regulation, this issue paper highlights positive and negative aspects of some recent initiatives to regulate online content, in one form or another – namely the European Union (EU) code of conduct on hate speech, the EU’s reform of its audiovisual media rules, the German NetzDG law, the French approach to co-regulating social media with platforms like Facebook, and the UK online harms paper.

It recommends moving towards a process-based co-regulatory approach to online content regulation, which does not make platforms liable for hosting individual pieces of content, but instead imposes a legal obligation on them to fully disclose their self-regulatory efforts to address illegal and harmful content on their services. Such disclosures should be combined with mandatory oversight by an independent regulator in order to allow for independent scrutiny of the necessity, proportionality and effectiveness of these measures.

Download the issue paper here.