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Social networks and digital platforms, Brussels strengthens its surveillance

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The agreement has been described as “ historical by Ursula von der Leyen. “Our new rules will protect users online, ensure freedom of expression and opportunities for businesses”assured the President of the European Commission after the finalization, on Saturday April 23, of a new regulation on digital technology which will make it possible to better fight against the excesses of the Internet such as hate speech, disinformation campaigns but also the sale of counterfeit products.

After several months of negotiations, an agreement has been reached between the European institutions on the Digital Services Act, which will require social networks and major online sales platforms to better eradicate illegal or dangerous content, indicated the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, initiator of the project with his competition colleague, Margrethe Vestager.

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A two-part plan

“The DSA is a world first in terms of digital regulation”, welcomed the Council of the European Union, which represents the 27 Member States, in a press release. The text “enshrines the principle that what is illegal offline must also be illegal online. It aims to protect the digital space against the dissemination of illegal content and to guarantee the protection of the fundamental rights of users”.

The digital services regulation is one of the two parts of a major plan presented in December 2020 by the European executive. The first part, the Digital Markets Act, which tackles anti-competitive practices, was concluded at the end of March. The DSA updates the e-commerce directive, born 20 years ago when the giant platforms were still embryonic. Its objective is to put an end to the excesses of social networks which have often hit the headlines: assassination of history professor Samuel Paty in France after a hate campaign in October 2020, assault of demonstrators on the Capitol in the United States in January 2021 , partly planned thanks to Facebook and Twitter, etc.

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The dark side of the Internet also concerns sales platforms invaded by counterfeit or defective products, which can be dangerous, such as children’s toys that do not meet safety standards.

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The new regulation establishes the obligation to withdraw “promptly” any illegal content (according to national and European laws) as soon as a platform becomes aware of it. It forces social networks to suspend users violating ” frequently “ the law. The DSA will oblige online sales sites to verify the identity of their suppliers before offering their products.

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The GAFAMs in the line of sight

At the heart of the project, new obligations imposed on “very large platforms”those counting “more than 45 million active users” in the EU, i.e. around twenty companies, the list of which remains to be determined but which will include GAFAM (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft), as well as Twitter, and probably TikTok, Zalando or Booking.

These players must themselves assess the risks associated with the use of their services and put in place the appropriate means to remove problematic content. They will be imposed increased transparency on their data and recommendation algorithms. They will be audited once a year by independent bodies and placed under the supervision of the European Commission, which may impose fines of up to 6% of their annual sales in the event of repeated infringements.

“In the context of the Russian aggression in Ukraine and the particular consequences on the manipulation of online information, a new article has been introduced in order to set up a reaction mechanism in the event of a crisis”, said the European Council. This mechanism, activated by decision of the Commission, will make it possible to take measures “proportionate and efficient” with regard to the very large platforms which would contribute to spreading false information.

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