[Europe is withdrawing the DSA, its super-weapon for internet regulation, on Friday

The European Union goes on the offensive on Friday against the excesses of Internet giants: the DSA (Digital Services Act) will force major platforms such as Google, Facebook, X (formerly Twitter) or TikTok to act more against of illegal content, under penalty of heavy fines. The principle of the new European regulation is like a slogan: what is illegal offline must also be illegal online – which, as all experts stress, is not so simple. We need to find a delicate balance between freedom of expression, which is of paramount importance, and the fight against abuses that threaten fundamental rights or democracy (disruption of elections, disinformation, protection of minors, etc.).

How to achieve this? The DSA targets platforms, not users: a series of obligations will be imposed from Friday on the 19 largest social networks, markets and search engines (Apple, Google, Microsoft, YouTube, Amazon, Facebook, LinkedIn, Wikipedia, TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram, X, Alibaba or Booking). As before, platforms are neither legally responsible for the content they host nor required to acknowledge it in advance. However, the EU hopes to push them to install an effective control system, after ten years of increasing online violence.

Among other things, they should offer Internet users a tool to easily report content “illegal” (defined by national legislation or other European texts), then withdraw them quickly. From “trusted standard bearers» in each country (such as the Pharos government website in France) their notifications will be processed on a priority basis. Merchant sites should be able to track sellers, to reduce fraud. Their algorithms will also be under scrutiny: they will have to explain how their recommendation systems work and offer alternatives without personalization. On the advertising side, the DSA prohibits targeting minors or ads based on sensitive data (religion, sexual orientation, etc.). Compliance with the rules will be monitored by independent audits, under the watchful eye of Brussels. Any violation will be subject to fines of up to 6% of global turnover. Last threat, repeat offenders could be banned.

“Brussels effect”

The reporting mechanism and the use of credible reporters are game-changers, as are the checks controlled by Brussels”, Judge Eric Le Quellenec, attorney at Simmons and Simmons. This control is supervised by a collective body 27, “in order to avoid the application of an overly broad definition of illegal content by countries such as Poland or Hungary“, he adds. “This will partially reduce online anonymity: we will monitor sellers and those who publish illegal content en masse“. “Will DSA be effective? We'll see with use. However, it is an innovative system because it establishes a permanent dialogue between stakeholders, regulators and users. There will also be + a Brussels effect + beyond the EU”, notes Marc Mossé, lawyer at the firm August Debouzy.

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However, the Commission should be equipped with sufficient resources, given the size of GAFAM's legal services, underlines economist Joëlle Toledano, member of the National Digital Council. Finally, we should ensure the maintenance of fundamental freedoms: experts highlight the face of European Commissioner Thierry Breton, who, at the beginning of July, after the riots in France, had confirmed that the DSA would allow the suspension social network if not deleted “immediately” from “calls for rebellion“. The echo of French President Emmanuel Macron's desire to be able to “Section” Social Networks.

Platforms fold

Three weeks later, following an open letter from 65 organizations defending freedom of expression, Thierry Breton returned to his remarks stating that only a judge could take such a measure. “We saw him back off. We must correct the excesses but without falling into the opposite excess”, notes Marc Mossé. “But without educating the youth on media, it will all be a bit in vain“.

In recent weeks, most major platforms, including Google and Microsoft, have announced compliance efforts. Meta (Facebook) says it has recruited 1,000 people and estimates that DSA is “an important event for all technology companies operating in the EU and will have a significant impact on the experience of Europeans“. TikTok publicly presented the approved measures, Apple explains that it is in the process of implementing them, and Elon Musk promised that X (formerly Twitter) would respect the DSA.

Amazon has appealed its listing (as has shopping website Zalando), but says it is heavily invested in reporting illegal content and intends to comply with the regulation if rejected. “DSA marks the end of the internet era where platforms decided for themselves what was best for us all and were “too big to care” about their impact on society“, concludes an EU official.

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