MEPs vow to end ‘digital Wild West’ of social media platforms

MEPs head into 2022 with package of laws that will put curbs on targeted ads and algorithms from large social media platforms

Christel Schaldemose (S&D)
Christel Schaldemose (S&D)

MEPs have vowed to put an end to the ‘digital Wild West’ of large platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Amazon, with a package of rules designed to regulate the online space.

MEPs from all the European Parliament’s political groupings took the first step in shaping the collective digital future of the European Union, by voting in favour of a draft Digital Services Act.

“We have come together to put an end to the digital wild west where the big platforms are setting the rules right now and we have too much criminal content going viral,” shadow rapporteur Arba Kokalari (EPP) said.

The draft DSA rules were approved by the internal market and consumer protection committee (IMCO) with 36 votes in favour, 7 votes against and 2 abstentions. The EP’s plenary will vote on the amended DSA proposal in January 2022 – if approved, negotiations then start with the French presidency of the European Council.

The DSA aims at addressing a large part of modern daily life including how people purchase goods and services, communicate, access information or interact in social networks. It updates the rules that govern digital services through innovation and the provision of legal certainty.

Key elements of the proposal are the new rules on liability for online intermediation services (platforms), ‘notice and action’ measures to remove content, and updated rules governing e-commerce or targeted advertisement.

MEPs included stronger safeguards to ensure the non-arbitrary and non-discriminatory processing of notices and respect for fundamental rights, including the freedom of expression.

The rapporteur for this draft, Christel Schaldemose (S&D) said: “We are now democratically reclaiming our online environment. The DSA is bringing EU tech regulation into the 21st century and it is about time. Intermediary services shape our lives – from the way we meet our significant other, where we buy our Christmas presents to how we read the news.

“However, the online environment’s growing influence in our lives is not only for the better: algorithms challenge our democracies by disseminating hatred and division, tech giants challenge our level playing field, and online marketplaces challenge our consumer protection standards and product safety. This has to stop. For this reason, we are building a new framework, so that what is illegal offline is also illegal online.”

The DSA will also give a clear definition of the responsibility and accountability rules for providers of intermediary services and online platforms, such as social media and marketplaces.

Very large online platforms (VLOPs) will be subject to specific obligations due to the particular risks they pose in the dissemination of both illegal and harmful content.

The DSA includes measures to tackle the proliferation of illegal goods, services or content online. Simultaneously the rules should enhance the accountability and transparency of the algorithms used by these very large online platforms.

The draft law contains provisions on risk assessments, risk mitigation measures, independent audits and so-called “recommender systems” – the algorithms that determine what users see.

MEPs beefed up provisions to make sure online platforms like Facebook are transparent about the way these algorithms work and to make them more accountable for the decisions they take. This also helps to tackle harmful content, which might not be illegal, and the spread of disinformation.

The DSA exempts micro and small enterprises from huge data processing requirements, and prohibits online platforms from using deceiving or nudging techniques to influence users’ behaviour through “dark patterns”.

Ewropej Funded by the European Union

This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

More in Ewropej