European legislation to regulate social media content
The European Parliament and the 27 EU member states have reached a historic agreement to force platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google to regulate harmful online content such as hate speech and disinformation.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen described it as a “historic” deal that will have ramifications beyond Europe.
“Our new rules will protect users online, secure free speech and opportunity for business,” she tweeted.
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“What is illegal offline will actually be illegal online in the EU,” von der Leyen added. “A strong signal for people, businesses and countries around the world.”
The Digital Services Act (DSA) represents the biggest overhaul of EU law in this area for two decades.
The DSA sets out the responsibilities of technology and internet companies. It touches on issues such as hate speech, the dissemination of disinformation, the sale of illegal and counterfeit products and the protection of fundamental rights.
This means companies must moderate their platforms for harmful content like Covid-19 misinformation and introduce protocols to block the spread of dangerous materials during crises like the pandemic.
Companies also need to increase transparency around user interactions and simplify user agreements.
In addition, the DSA prohibits targeted advertising using sensitive personal data such as sexual orientation or political and religious beliefs. Advertising targeted at minors is also prohibited.
German Federal Minister of Justice Marco Buschmann said that “the Digital Services Act protects freedom of expression online. Platforms are no longer allowed to remove posts on a whim and will have to justify their decisions if they ask.”
He also stressed the importance of limiting the dissemination of illegal content. “Death threats, aggressive slurs and calls for violence are not an expression of freedom of speech, but an attack on free and open speech,” he said.
The DSA was also welcomed by the executive vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee, Christoph Heubner, who called it a “clear sign of hope” for Holocaust survivors.
Heubner said the principle of prohibiting online what is illegal offline would be a decisive step in the “fight against racist and anti-Semitic hatred, as well as fascist war propaganda”.
The DSA is part of a two-pillar legislative package regulating tech giants and internet companies operating in the European Union.
Negotiators passed the Digital Market Act (DMA) in March 2021. It focuses on market distortion risks and targets the biggest digital players – those platforms that act as “gatekeepers” – to prevent them from abuse their dominant market position.
The European Parliament and EU member states must now adopt the DSA legislation, which is considered a formality, before a transitional period of 15 months, after which it comes into force.