Global view key in assessing DSA impacts, say stakeholders

The DSA, which is intended to regulate the behaviours of online platforms on a first-of-its kind scale, is entering the final stages of the legislative process, set to be finalised in the coming months. [Shutterstock / metamorworks]

Attention must be paid to the global, not just European, impacts of the Digital Services Act (DSA), stakeholders have stressed, as the landmark platform regulation reaches its final legislative stretch. 

The DSA, intended to regulate the behaviours of online platforms on a first-of-its-kind scale, is entering the final stages of the legislative process, set to be finalised in the coming months. Negotiations on content are still ongoing, with a third trilogue involving all three branches of the EU, scheduled for the end of the month. 

“The DSA will be to our public discourse what the GDPR was to privacy”, Asha Allen, advocacy director for Europe, online expression and civic space at the Centre for Democracy and Technology (CDT), said at an event on the DSA and the digital economy on Tuesday (22 March). 

In this context, she added, preserving the legislation’s basis in fundamental rights will be crucial, as will ensuring that it is practically implementable and enforceable. 

“It’s going to be a game-changer, with far-reaching implications well beyond the European jurisdiction”, she said. “So I would ask, how will the DSA shape the digital economy and the digital environment on a global scale?” 

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“If done correctly,” said Allen, “the EU could set a precedent for the most comprehensive and holistic legislative framework for platform and content governance”. 

She stressed, however, that for this to happen, the legislation would need to clarify the rules applicable to online actors, the responsibilities of the public authorities enforcing them and the rights held by users. Transparency, she noted, would be critical to all three. 

“Even at these late stages of negotiations”, she said, the opportunity to define a “human rights-centric model of platform governance…is still very apparent.” 

Greater transparency would also work alongside greater pluralism for businesses in Europe, said MEP Sandro Gozi.

“There is an ambition of the European Union to act as a global rule-setter, a global standard-setter and to develop a model which is alternative to the laissez-faire, everything based on self-regulation US model and the total state control Chinese model”, he said. “I think that we have the right ambition to propose not only to our consumers, our citizens but to the rest of the world, if it works, a new approach to digital issues.” 

One area in which the DSA’s global impact is likely to be felt, speakers noted, is in disinformation. The moderation of online content has proved one of the most challenging areas of negotiation so far, Gozi said, adding that it would likely also be one of the most challenging areas for implementation.

While individual users should not be censored, he said, this does not equate to freely allowing people to see a high volume of content that fact-checkers have confirmed as part of misinformation campaigns. “Freedom of speech is not freedom of reach”, he said. 

Gozi also emphasised the importance of the DSA’s provisions on transparency and allowing vetted researchers access to platform data to facilitate insight into how their algorithms operate. This point, he added, is all the more critical in light of current world events.

Online disinformation has drawn significant attention since Russia invaded Ukraine a month ago.

In response to calls from the Ukrainian government, several large platforms have taken steps to tackle its spread. The EU made the unprecedented decision to sanction two Kremlin-backed media outlets, RT and Sputnik, banning the dissemination of their content in the EU. 

DSA: European Commission pitches crisis management mechanism, supervisory fees

The European Commission pitched to member states on Tuesday (22 March) two proposals on a crisis management mechanism and a supervisory fee for very large online platforms, with the support of two presentations seen by EURACTIV.

The Commission introduced the idea …

State-sponsored disinformation was taken into consideration in the formulation of the DSA, said Gozi, with measures on cybersecurity, content moderation and the evaluation of the systemic risks posed by platforms all designed to combat it. 

The Commission’s recent proposal for regulating political advertising would also address some of these issues, said Allen of CDT. The initiative seeks to set rules for the use of data in online political ads, as well as the transparency obligations that would be imposed on platforms hosting them.

The EU executive intends for the legislation to be in place by early 2023, ahead of the European Parliament elections the following year.

EU Commission presents new rules for political ads

The European Commission launched a proposal to regulate political advertising, introducing transparency obligations for marketers and strict limits to the use of sensitive personal information.

The proposal was published on Thursday (25 November) to protect the electoral process and democratic debate …

In tacking these concerns, however, Allen said, care must be taken to ensure that the preservation of fundamental rights remains centred and that solutions to problems do not have unintended consequences.

“It is vital that we do have the DSA soon, and we want to make sure that we have an appropriate framework for the contemporary digital ecosystem”, she said.

“But decision-makers and lead negotiators need to think deeply and reflect about the practical implementation of these to make sure that the rush to bring this to life does not unintentionally undermine the very rights that they were tasked to protect.”

[Edited by Luca Bertuzzi/Alice Taylor]

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