Companies such as TikTok and Facebook are to step up deletions of internet content if it could encourage the entry of irregular migrants. Calls for this came from the British Criminal Investigation Department. A department for “removal orders” has also been set up at Europol along the same lines.
British Home Secretary Priti Patel on Saturday called on social media providers to remove posts if they “glorify” refugee crossings. In a letter to several companies, Patel was responding to a video posted on TikTok that went viral. It showed a group of men crossing the English Channel in an inflatable boat.
According to Patel, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter should also delete “totally unacceptable clips” if they promote “deadly crossings”. Posts from “people smugglers”, for example, had been used by the platforms to promote their services. Immigration Minister Chris Philp had already spoken to representatives of the largest internet companies earlier this year and called for ads promoting the crossings to be removed.
Companies to act “quickly and proactively”
The reason for this meeting was reportedly that less than half of the requests for removal of internet content were followed. In future, according to Home Minister Patel, companies should act “quickly and proactively” on their own initiative. The British “Independent” quotes a Facebook spokesperson as saying that “people smuggling is illegal and any ads, posts, pages or groups that co-ordinate this activity are not allowed on Facebook”. The internet giant will therefore “continue to work closely with law enforcement agencies around the world” to identify, remove and report “this illegal activity”.
In Great Britain, notifications for the removal of internet content are made by the National Crime Agency (NCA). The agency works closely with Europol, and since 2016 an “Internet Referral Unit” (IRU) has been set up there based on the British model. There, investigators use software to search the internet for postings glorifying terrorism. The platforms concerned are then informed to remove the content. In over 90% of the cases, this was done by the companies.
In the meantime, these deletion requests have become so-called removal orders. Their EU-wide compliance is now law with the “Regulation preventing the dissemination of terrorist content online”, which has been negotiated for years with the EU Parliament. The regulation entered into force yesterday and must be implemented by all member states by 7 June 2022.
Expansion in the “Digital Services Act”
In terms of numbers, the IRU at Europol has mainly dealt with terrorist content in the past years, but since its existence it has also searched the internet for entries that promote irregular migration to the European Union. To this end, it works closely with the “European Migrant Smuggling Centre”, which is also based at Europol.
So far, only the implementation of Europol’s orders on terrorism is mandatory. This could soon change, because according to the EU proposals for a “Digital Services Act”, the provisions on “tackling illegal content” are to be extended to other areas of crime.
The competent law enforcement or judicial authorities would then have to be informed by the companies “without delay” if postings show a “serious criminal offence” posing “a threat to the life or safety of person”. However, the draft does not define which offences are included. The legislative package is also to include orders to provide information, according to which the platforms must hand over user data on the accounts concerned.
Nothing “glamorous” about crossing the Channel
The conservative politician Patel is known for her hard line on migration policy; in December, for example, she called migrants a “plague”. The proposal to deploy military ships in the English Channel is also not off the table, and the new military drones soon to arrive in the UK could also be used for migration defence, according to a report in the Telegraph.
Patel’s push to control the internet has been criticised by refugee organisations. Clare Moseley, founder of Care4Calais, which operates in northern France, told the Guardian, “There is nothing remotely glamorous about Channel crossings. Desperate people put their lives at risk to make this journey and for some it is the last trip they make”.
Indeed, people die time and again trying to cross the English Channel in high winds. If the Minister were concerned about preventing deaths, however, she could create opportunities for safe entry into the UK. This is what Enver Solomon, chair of the British Refugee Council, has commented in the British media.
Picture: French Maritime Prefecture of Manche and the North Sea