The Digital Services Act: The Future of Content Regulation

The Digital Services Act: The Future of Content Regulation

On 13 January, MEP Alex Agius Saliba was joined by industry representatives from Zoom and Vodafone to share thoughts on the European Commission’s ambitious plans to reshape the online world. The discussion, moderated by Samuel Stolton of Euractiv, indicated a consensus between public and private sector that an updated regulatory framework is required, not only to ensure that what is illegal offline remains illegal online, but also to provide legal certainty to digital companies faced with unprecedented challenges. Participants shared their initial reactions for the file and vision for a new legal framework.

Platforms have too much power

Following the storming of Capitol Hill and online platform bans the week prior, the discussion began with Maltese MEP Alex Agius Saliba, who questioned the power of certain platforms, including Zoom, as well as the role of social media in our daily lives, raising the risks of disinformation and censorship. He underlined the lack of transparency in the decision-making process within these platforms, and the risks for infringement on fundamental rights. However, as Giulia Pastorella, Head of EU Government Relations at Zoom, noted, platforms are currently acting by their own initiative and within the existing framework.

Companies need legal certainty

Indeed, Pastorella underlined that companies require guidance on the type of content that can be removed, as well as how to remove it. Beyond notice and action mechanisms, legal clarity is also required for the appointment of trusted flaggers according to MEP Saliba, who highlighted the risks for bias and abuse.

KYBC could apply to all platforms

While the European Commission proposed to apply identity verification requirements for marketplaces, MEP Saliba suggested that know your business customer principles should cover all digital services, to ensure further transparency of harmful business practices. The extended scope promoted by MEPs last year may resurface in the European Parliament’s draft of the Digital Services Act.

Policy-makers must take stock of existing laws

The Digital Services Act’s wide scope will impact companies beyond search engines and social media platforms, and risks creating new compliance obligations for mobile network operators. However, as Francesco Versace, Senior Advisor, Platforms and Services at Vodafone, noted, these providers already operate under a sector-specific regulatory framework. Versace called on policymakers to consider applicable law across sectors to avoid conflicting requirements and overlaps.

The Digital Services Act will transform the Internet ecosystem and set unprecedented standards for companies operating online; however, last week’s discussion indicates that a variety of policy issues remain up for debate. With no agreement expected before December 2023, at the earliest, we can anticipate further involvement from industry and civil society as policymakers attempt the delicate balancing act of satisfying diverging interests.

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