For immediate release | Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Digital Services Act - A Vital Step Towards A Better Internet

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(New York, N.Y.) – As part of the European Digital Strategy, the European Commission announced a Digital Services Act (DSA) package that will be presented at the end of 2020. The DSA intends to modernize the current legal framework by proposing clear rules framing the responsibilities of digital service providers presenting a watershed moment in combating online extremism.

For too long, Big Tech has not been held accountable for the damage inflicted by its online platforms. Existing protocols are simply not doing enough. Until now, the tech industry has repeatedly failed to take responsibility for its own action and has attempted to deflect attention away.

The Counter Extremism Project (CEP) welcomes results of the vote which took place in the Plenary yesterday.

Yesterday’s vote took place following the positions put forward by the Civil Liberties Committee (LIBE); Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) and Internal Market (IMCO) Committee in recent weeks.

This landmark legislation will finally allow the EU to hold Big Tech accountable and to combat online radicalisation and build a safer online environment. 

In reaction to the Plenary vote, David Ibsen, Executive Director of CEP said:

“CEP supports the European Parliament’s reports and acknowledges their importance in ensuring a more secure, online Europe.

However, there is more that Europe can do to combat online terror and hate speech. In particular, the focus on ‘illegal’ rather than ‘harmful’ content has the potential to allow vast amounts of damaging content to continue to fall through the cracks.

While freedom of expression must be respected, removing harmful content is vital in the fight against hate speech and online terror. Those who argue that such regulations are a vessel of censorship are allowing the constant propagation of hate, disinformation and radicalisation online. The internet should not be a lawless space and private companies should not dictate the rules. Hate speech and terrorist content should, and will not, be tolerated online.

This is a once-in-a-generation chance to stand up against online extremism. European legislators must understand the importance of striking the correct balance for the DSA, so that its implementation will take us another step further to safeguarding against extremism in all forms.”

Lucinda Creighton, Senior Adviser to CEP in Europe said:

"CEP welcomes the DSA positions that have been put forward by the three parliamentary committees, especially the calls for adopting a pan-European notice-and-take-down mechanism and improvements in transparency reporting and oversight. However, as the NetzDG has shown, notice-and-takedown systems are insufficient alone. We at CEP believe that more steps can, and should, be taken to protect European citizens against online extremist and illegal content.

We believe that the parliament is misguided in its hesitance to support the use of automated tools to remove manifestly illegal content, especially given its calls for safeguards to protect against over-blocking. Big Tech are already using automated tools to identify and remove illegal content. The increased transparency and oversight expected under the DSA will only highlight this, and Europe will be shown to have failed to act decisively against those who seek to subvert our values and do us harm.

Across Europe, we have seen a drastic increase in the proliferation of extremist ideology in online circles, coupled with the evident apathy from Big Tech. Self-regulation has failed us and the desires of digital rights defenders to protect the so-called ‘free internet’ has left us exposed.

CEP has argued for lifting the ban platforms have on general monitoring as it maintains a broken system that only serves to protect extremist groups that operate online. The practice, as well as the retention of the limited liability regime and the calls for a ‘good Samaritan’ clause, wrongly incentivizes Big Tech to reduce monitoring in order to appear safe and compliant with their own terms of service.

This is dangerous as, once again, it removes accountability from online platforms - one of the core pillars of the DSA. The deployment of automated tools, specifically the use of hashing technology to prevent the re-upload of illegal content, together with human moderation, would be a tremendous benefit to both platforms and users by increasing the effectiveness of identification and removal of harmful content."