EESC opinion on the impact of social networking sites on citizens

By EDRi · September 23, 2009

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Deutsch: [EESC-Stellungnahme über den Einfluß von Social Networking-Seiten auf die Bürger |]

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) debated in a meeting
organized on 17 September 2009 a new approach in regulating social networing
websites, with the appointment of an EU Ombudsman to be responsible for the
protection of human dignity, privacy and data protection in the audiovisual
sector, that should include specific responsibility for social networking
websites. The final opinion would be made public in the beginning of
November 2009.

But this new approach by the EESC needs to be in line with other EU
developments in the field of regulating social networks. In July 2008, the
European Commission held an extensive public consultation on “Online Social
Networking”, the data and conclusions of which form an essential study base
for future developments under the Safer Internet Programme (2009-2013) and
on 26 September 2008, the European Commissioner Viviane Reding, pointed out
the issue during a speech in Luxembourg at the Safer Internet Forum, setting
out the main guidelines for the Commission’s future action in this field.

The 30th international conference of data protection and privacy authorities
on 17 October 2008 resulted in a detailed resolution with recommendations
related to the protection of privacy in social networking services. The
“Safer Social Networking principles for the EU document” was adopted on 10
February 2009 having at the basis an agreement concluded by the 17 largest
operators of the main social networking sites in Europe. By this document
the operators recognise their responsibility and identify the potential
risks to which young people under the age of 18 using these sites are

The EESC’s preliminary draft opinion, prepared by rapporteur Pegada Liz and
issued on 11 August 2009 recognised the positive aspects of social networks,
but expressed concerns related to the risks of the illegal and abusive use
of social networks drawing a special attention to the risks related “to the
use of social networking sites by minors and other vulnerable members of the
public, specifically people with poor digital literacy, who frequently fall
victim to others who take advantage of them to engage in illegal activities
that affront their personal dignity and endanger their physical and mental
wellbeing and even their lives.”

The documents also suggests the appointment of an European Community
Ombudsman similar to the Canadian Privacy Commissioner. The Canadian
commissioner already performed an investigation on Facebook following which,
the operator agreed to add new privacy safeguards to the website.

EESC draft opinion considers that a single regulator at the level of the
Community could have regulatory or co-regulatory powers on social networks,
including the power to impose penalties.

Other proposals of the draft opinion include a call on the European
Commission to adopt a green paper on Social Network Services (SNS), the
development of self-regulation and co-regulation schemes for the SNS
industry, especially on the protection of minors. Launching initiatives such
as Safer Internet Programme 2009-2013 is also a proposal as well as
increasing efforts to raise awareness at the EU and national levels and
setting up principles and rules of conduct for SNS sites at the
international level.

The draft opinion was discussed within a meeting on 17 September where a
short questionnaire was distributed to participants including questions on
freedom of speech, censorship, anonymity on SNS sites, sanctions, self- and
co-regulation and the creation of a Community ombudsman. The answers will be
used as input for the final opinion that will be discussed in November 2009.

Preliminary Draft Opinion of the Section for Transport, Energy,
Infrastructure and the Information Society on The impact of social
networking sites on citizens/consumers (11.08.2009)

Questionnaire for Participants in the EESC Hearing for the own-initiative
opinion TEN/390 on the impact of social networking sites on
citizens/consumers (14.09.2009)

EDRI-gram: Social Networks – on the European Commission’s Agenda