Feb 20, 2024 2 min read

EU to investigate TikTok over online safety concerns

The European Union has announced it is investigating TikTok for potential breaches of its Digital Services Act - failure to deal with harmful content was one of the concerns cited by Universal Music when it pulled out of licensing negotiations last month

EU to investigate TikTok over online safety concerns

The European Union is to investigate whether TikTok has breached online safety rules under the trade bloc’s new Digital Services Act, which came fully into force last week, but began applying to seventeen ‘very large online platforms’, including TikTok, last year. 

“Today we open an investigation into TikTok over suspected breach of transparency and obligations to protect minors”, wrote European Commissioner For Internal Market Thierry Breton on Twitter, adding that this move was about “enforcing [the] DSA for [a] safer internet for youngsters”.

A “tidal wave of hate speech, bigotry, bullying and harassment on the platform” was one of the concerns raised by Universal Music when it commented on its big falling out with the video-sharing platform after licensing negotiations collapsed last month. 

The DSA is the EU’s attempt to stop the distribution of harmful content on digital platforms, including abusive and unlawful content, as well as misinformation and disinformation. Platforms, and especially the largest platforms, have various obligations under the DSA. If TikTok is found to not be in compliance, EU regulators could fine the company up to 6% of its global turnover. 

Universal pulled out of licensing negotiations with TikTok at the end of last month - resulting in its music being removed from the platform as the existing agreement expired. While the main thrust of the disagreement is that the music company wants more money, it also highlighted a number of other reasons for withdrawing from deal talks - one of those being online safety.

TikTok has offered no solutions to this “rising tide of content adjacency issues”, said Universal in an open letter to its artists. It argued that alongside widespread copyright infringement - to which TikTok seems indifferent - there is a “tidal wave of hate speech, bigotry, bullying and harassment on the platform”.

Researchers have previously highlighted TikTok’s content moderation problem, particularly the spread of hate speech on the platform. And it is the ongoing discussions of these concerns that has likely prompted action by the EU on the matter. 

Breton said that areas being investigated include “addictive design and screen time limits, rabbit hole effect, age verification, [and] default privacy settings”. 

In response, a TiKTok spokesperson said in a statement, “TikTok has pioneered features and settings to protect teens and keep under thirteens off the platform, issues the whole industry is grappling with”.

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