DSA should tackle the root cause of polarisation, not just its symptoms

Yesterday, 30 September 20221, the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) approved its Opinion on the proposed Digital Services Act (DSA). European Digital Rights (EDRi) and its 45 member organisations had previously called on JURI members to reject the compromise proposed by the Rapporteur for Opinion.

By EDRi · October 1, 2021

Yesterday, the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) approved its Opinion on the proposed Digital Services Act (DSA). European Digital Rights (EDRi) and its 45 member organisations had previously called on JURI members to reject the compromise proposed by the Rapporteur for Opinion.

While we recognise the significant efforts made by leading JURI members to reduce the power that Big Tech platforms have over our lives, the JURI Opinion falls short of those goals.

“Instead of enabling an open and flourishing online European ecosystem, the JURI Opinion threatens our freedom of expression and leaves people – especially the most marginalised – at the mercy of Big Tech platforms arbitrariness,” says Jan Penfrat, Senior Policy Advisor at European Digital Rights (EDRi).

“Big Tech platforms already wield outsize power over what people can say on the internet. The JURI’s lazy and artificial proposals do nothing to address that and would in fact hand platforms even more power by incentivising over-removal of speech. Trying to regulate away allegedly illegal content by creating 30-minute removal deadlines and taking liability protections away from any platform caught ‘organsing’ content are not serious solutions for reigning in big tech. Just the opposite,” adds Christoph Schmon, EFF’s International Policy Director.

Among other things, the Opinion introduces short removal timelines for any online content that any internet user alleges to be illegal. That includes everything from social media posts and online videos to blog posts and—according to the compromise—even private chat messages. Platforms that do not act based on such allegations within 72 hours, 24 hours or even 30 minutes, would be held liable.

In addition, according to the JURI Opinion, any online platform that “optimises, classifies, or organises” user-generated content (which includes all modern online platforms), would be held liable for that content, too.

“The JURI Opinion undermine the cornerstones of the legal order on which people’s online lives and Europe’s digital economy are built. None of the innovations that we enjoy today – from public online forums to social media and Wikipedia – would have emerged under such prohibitive rules,” warns Jan Penfrat, Senior Policy Advisor at European Digital Rights (EDRi).

“Europe has an extraordinary opportunity to learn from its past mistakes and develop a model of human rights centric platform governance. However, what we witnessed yesterday in the European Parliament points in the opposite direction. We strongly remind the European Parliament that fundamental rights are not up for negotiation,” says Eliska Pirkova, Global Freedom of Expression Lead at Access Now.

The JURI Opinion solely focuses on the removal of allegedly illegal content, but does not address the underlying systemic problems that lead to its amplification. None of the proposed rules prevent platforms from making billions in profits through pushing disinformation, division, and hate to go viral. None of the proposed measures would stop Big Tech platforms from micro-targeting their users with content paid for by third parties (such as commercial and political advertising) – even when the content is provided by hostile actors to subvert our political debates and democratic elections.

“The DSA should put an end to the surveillance-for-advertising industry that is so harmful to marginalised groups and democracy. Instead, the law should enable a tracking-free ads ecosystem or other, healthier business models for the internet of the future, in Europe,” says Jan Penfrat, Senior Policy Advisor at European Digital Rights (EDRi).