Let’s admit it. We’re all addicted to the internet! It’s amazing for allowing us to communicate globally, meet each other, build networks and join forces, access information and culture, and express and spread political opinions.
Unfortunately, online platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok filter and moderate content with a lot of collateral damage: Too often, hateful content, especially targeting minority groups, remains online.
On the other hand, legitimate posts, videos, accounts, and ads are removed and the platforms make it difficult to contest these removals. This has serious implications for freedom of expression online for everyone.
This is why we need to update the EU’s internet rules, which were adopted 20 years ago. The EU is working on this via the “Digital Services Package”.
The reform of the rules has the potential to be either a BIG THREAT to fundamental rights OR a MAJOR IMPROVEMENT of the current situation online.
This is why, we the GREENS/EFA, have launched the #MyContentMyRights campaign that fights for a better internet.
We are pushing for four solutions:
1. Protect free speech and improve how we deal with illegal content
2. Compel Internet platforms to explain what content they show us and why
3. Ban advertising that is based on abusive profiling of people online
4. Break internet giants’ power with more competition, more apps, and more services to choose from.
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The reform is expected to tackle important issues, including centralised platform monopolies, broken business models based on profiling and tracking, and illegal online content and behavior.
The Digital Services Package contains two individual pieces of legislation:
• An update of the 20-year-old e-Commerce Directive (ECD) – called the Digital Services Act (DSA).
• A proposal for ex-ante rules for “systemic platforms” that have a gatekeeping position on the market – as part of the Digital Markets Act (DMA).
In the EU Parliament, two legislative initiative reports have been adopted on the Digital Services Act. The Greens/Efa’s shadow rapporteurs have introduced specific language in the final resolutions that the EU Commission should put into its legislative proposals.
The e-Commerce Directive (also called ECD) is a central piece of legislation regulating digital services within the European Union. Adopted nearly 20 years ago, this piece of legislation sets up liability exemptions for online services for content that users upload and share on their networks. Until recently, these rules applied horizontally to all sorts of illegal content, including copyright infringements, hate speech, and child abuse material. The current rules for take-downs and removals are, therefore (indirectly) defined by the ECD.
HOWEVER, this piece of legislation is supposed to cover the evolution of new digital technologies and services. Many new ways to connect, shop, or access online communications have been developed since 2000. In fact, since the adoption of the ECD, the landscape of services has drastically changed.
Notably, cloud services and social media platforms became significant players, and some have gained significant market power. Currently, a small number of dominant platforms (mostly US-based) have a high impact on individuals’ rights and freedoms, societies, and democracies.
The nature of the internet has also vastly changed in the past 20 years towards an increasingly participatory community. As a result, the amount of user-generated content has increased exponentially. On the other hand, we witnessed more government pressure on companies to implement voluntary mechanisms against alleged illegal or “harmful” content.
→ These two parallel developments resulted in an increasing number of wrongful removals and blocking of legitimate speech, making a clear legal framework even more important.
While the ECD is not perfect and led to problems, mainly due to lack of clarity, its safe harbor provisions encouraged the protection of users’ fundamental rights, particularly the freedom of expression and information.
The EU Commission is scheduled to propose draft legislation for the Digital Services Act (DSA) and the Digital Markets Act (DMA) on 15 December 2020. The EU Parliament and Council will then start working on their positions. It is not clear yet which Committee in the EU Parliament will be lead and if there will be shared competence on specific parts.