01 June 2021

On 1 June 2021, EIF organised a virtual debate on ‘Digital Services Act: creating effective rules for content moderation in the EU’, exploring the diverse perspectives on the European Commission’s proposal for a Digital Services Act and how to best create a comprehensive, workable and effective set of rules for digital services in Europe.
The debate, hosted by MEP and EIF member Lina Gálvez Muñoz and moderated by EIF Director General Maria Rosa Gibellini, featured the following speakers:

  • Ricardo Castanheira, Digital Counsellor, Portuguese Presidency
  • Wouter Gekiere, Head of Brussels Office, European Broadcasting Union
  • Lisa Felton, Chair of the Mobile Commerce Operator Expert Group, GSMA
  • Frane Maroevic, Director, Content & Jurisdiction Program, the Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network
Digital Services Act: creating effective rules for content moderation in the EU

According to Lina Gálvez Muñoz MEP, the DSA is an important piece of legislation aiming at updating a 20-year-old legal framework set out in the e-commerce directive, whose revision is clearly needed since digital services and markets have evolved quickly, together with the social challenges which have seen an acceleration during the pandemic such as hate speech and disinformation.
There is the need to bring accountability to the system and achieve a systematic change for an economy that protects users and their rights with clear data protection provisions.

Even if the clarification of the definition of online platforms and very large online platforms is the principal concern, other aspects should be further clarified according to MEP Gálvez, such as content moderation, illegal content, advertisements requirements, the role of the digital services coordinator and SMEs’ concerns. She also highlighted the need to improve coordination among the Member States, competent authorities and intermediary services. “Overall, our goal should be to transform the digital economy so that it works for people, by setting a worldwide standard.”

Ricardo Castanheira gave an overview of the file from the Portuguese Presidency’s perspective: the Presidency is very proud of the work done and the results produced until now, as very ambitious goals for the digital services package had been set at the beginning. Moreover, clarified Mr. Castanheira, both the two incoming Presidencies, the Slovenian and the French one, affirmed their willingness to quickly move forward with the negotiations and the Portuguese Presidency is happy to have paved the way to their upcoming work.

He then focused on the most disputed issues arising from the Member States in particular: freedom of expression versus illegal content, cross-border enforcement of the rules taking into account the principle of ‘country of origin’, micro and small enterprises situation, the level of harmonisation.

Wouter Gekiere underlined the urgency of the DSA and the need to get it right: even if the DSA is not media legislation, the impact will be huge for the media sector. According to Mr. Gekiere, there is a need to work on the impact that platforms have on many sectors in Europe.

Concerning the media sector, he shared a range of difficulties for journalists, editors and media professionals working across Europe together with some feedback from EBU’s membership, facing major problems with illegal content online including copyright infringement material as well as hate speech, access to news, building trust with the audiences online. “We feel that the DSA is the right opportunity to address some of these examples” said Mr. Gekiere, “and a robust approach is needed, whether it’s transparency, traceability, reporting systems and notice and take action systems.”

Lisa Felton focused on the negative impact that aggressive and coordinated disinformation campaigns in relation to 5G had on the mobile communication industry during the pandemic. Even if disinformation has been condemned by governments, scientists and even if both the European Commission and the World Health Organisation have issued statements making clear that there is no connection between 5G and Covid, the problems and the attacks continue.

This is why GSMA welcomes a structural solution; the DSA strikes the right balance between maintaining fundamental rights and ensuring a safer and healthier digital environment. In particular, she highlighted three suggestions for areas of improvement: (1) action should be taken by the provider closest to the content, (2) a careful balance of obligations, (3) online platforms should on a best effort basis prevent the re-upload of known illegal content.

Frane Maroevic underlined two main questions arisen from the debate: (1) how to best harmonise the framework to tackle illegal content while protecting users’ fundamental rights online and (2) how to ensure cross-border application of the new rules.
In absence of global harmonisation of rules and regulations, conflicting and varying requirements by different states around the world are increasingly restricting the accessibility of information and services on the internet, creating a splinternet, now a major transnational challenge.

In order to ensure interoperability and a harmonised approach to the rules, reiterated Mr. Maroevic, there will be a need for a common understanding of the problems, shared terminology, taxonomies, common procedures, common standards for recourse mechanisms, for example, transparency…
Not just between the regulators themselves, but also between the regulators and platforms and with other stakeholders: interoperability is a complex process which will require a multi-stakeholder input.

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