Blogs | Information democracy | Freedom of expression online

59% of polled EU citizens decry anti-terror upload filters. You should too.

Following disruptions due to the COVID-19 crisis, the negotiations between the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers on the Terrorist Content Regulation are resuming this week.

By EDRi · September 21, 2020

A recent opinion poll commissioned by MEP Patrick Breyer (Greens/EFA) found that a large majority of European Union (EU) citizens opposes EU plans in terms of countering terrorist content online. The poll was conducted by YouGov and gathered the opinions of 10,214 citizens from 10 EU countries.

The poll focused on two major sticky points of the Terrorist Content Regulation:

1. transnational removal orders (for example, the Dutch authorities being able to request the removal of content published in Germany) and

2. the obligation for companies to deploy upload filters in order to screen all user content and automatically detect and delete “terrorist” content.

Scornful support for content filters = unsurprising

After 2019, a year of protests against upload filters introduced by the EU Copyright Directive (here and here), popular support for automated censorship remains low. Unsurprisingly, only 38% of respondents support the plans of the EU Commission and EU governments to impose the use of anti-terror algorithmic filters. Instead, 59% of respondents either believe that a case-by-case assessment of content by public authorities would be more appropriate or reject the removal of “terrorist content” from the internet altogether.

We have repeatedly warned against the devastating effects that automated content moderation tools may have on fundamental rights, especially freedom of expression and access to information. They do not understand context, cannot make complex judgments on the legality of content and therefore, often lead to the over-blocking of legitimate speech. This has dramatic consequences for many online voices, especially the those already at risk and marginalised.

Transnational censorship powers? No, Non, Nein, Ne

An overall majority (51%) of respondents want only their national public authorities or courts to decide on the legality of their content online. Only 30% of poll participants supported the idea that all EU Member States authorities should be able to order content removals anywhere in Europe. People seem to prefer that their own elected government, rather than a foreign one, should be responsible for distinguishing between a genuine terrorist threat and legally protected speech. This holds true especially in a context where several EU countries have deficient judiciary systems and proactively erode the rule of law.

Despite the adoption in 2017 of a Terrorism Directive supposedly aimed at harmonising the definition of terrorist offences among EU countries, the definition of what classifies as terrorism still varies between EU Member States. For example, Spain and France have toughened their counter-terrorism laws to criminalise “apology for terrorism”, resulting in artists and satirists being prosecuted again and again as well as impulsive social media users and even children in school courtyards. This frequent use of counter-terrorism measures to shut down critical voices and to serve political interests reinforces the call for strictly limiting governmental censorship powers.

YouGov poll results (09.2020)

Trilogues on terrorist content: Upload or re-upload filters? Eachy peachy. (17.10.2019)

Open letter: Civil society urges Member States to respect the principles of the law in Terrorist Content Online Regulation (27.03.2020)

(Contribution by Chloé Berthélémy, EDRi)