The European Commission on March 1 released its operational measures to quickly and efficiently remove illegal content – including hate speech, terrorist content, child pornography, and copyright infringement – from the public domain.

“The rule of law applies just as much online as it does offline,” said Vice-President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip, adding that online platforms are self-regulating the removal of more illegal content than ever before.

“Our aim is to protect everyone who is attacked online,” said Commissioner Vera Jourová. “If hate speech was painted on a wall, it would be removed by the authorities and actions would be taken to punish the perpetrators. The same should be done online.”

Companies are now expected to have clearer flagging procedures to take down illegal content at a much faster rate and pay more attention to illicit material that’s published online, without inadvertently removing legitimate content.

The platforms also have to respond to users who report their content as having been unnecessarily flagged or taken down. “They have to be transparent and explain why they took down material that is 100 percent legal,” said Ansip.

The Commission’s recommendations put a heavy focus on smaller providers as the larger platforms have the financial and technical means to quickly remove illegal content, according to Commissioner Mariya Gabriel. Illegal content is deleted from larger servers but then reappears on small and medium-sized platforms.

“We need to monitor that is taken down from one space and make sure it doesn’t pop up elsewhere, even when content is automatically deleted,” said Gabriel.

The Commission is, however,  taking special care to increase its monitoring of online terrorist content. “Terrorists still use the internet to spread their poisonous propaganda,” said Commissioner Julian King. “This material has been directly linked to some of the recent attacks in Europe.”

All platforms have been advised that they must remove terrorist content within one hour of its initial posting and internet companies should implement automatic detections signals to “disable terrorist content and stop it from reappearing once it has been removed”.

The EU Member States will report to the Commission on a quarterly basis about their overall cooperation with internet companies. Each EU country and companies will then be required to submit information on any terrorist content found online within three months of its removal. Othe illegal will be subject to the same procedure and reported on within six months of its removal.

The Commission has said it will guarantee freedom of expression, with Juorova adding, “We must not let online trolls limit our right to express ourselves.”