DSA - What are the benefits of Europe's digital basic law against hate and disinformation?

February 17th marks a turning point in Europe: the Digital Services Act (DSA) comes into full force and ushers in a new era for our fundamental digital rights. We spoke to telecoms security experts Christine Rößler and Anja Zalewski about the benefits of the EU regulation and how it will help combat hate and disinformation online.

The Digital Services Act (DSA) is intended to protect democratic values beyond the borders of individual EU member states. Through stronger regulation of online platforms, it is intended to help citizens, among other things, to take action against hate and disinformation online more easily. The regulation, also known as the Digital Basic Law for Europe, creates a uniform legal framework for the digital economy in the EU. This is important because the challenges of the digital space - such as the spread of hate speech and disinformation - require transnational responses.

The picture shows Christine Rößler and Anja Zalewski, Telekom experts, explaining the Digital Services Act (DSA)

Telekom security experts Christine Rößler and Anja Zalewski on the EU Digital Services Act (DSA) legislation. © Deutsche Telekom

Christine Rößler, Senior Security Expert at Deutsche Telekom, explains the necessity as follows: "Hate does not stop at borders. The harmonization of legislation within Europe is important because purely national legislation offers loopholes and is only partially enforceable due to the European country of origin principle. We have seen this, for example, with the Network Enforcement Act." 

The Network Enforcement Act, which came into force in Germany in 2017, also aims to combat hate crime, criminal false news and other criminal content on social network platforms more effectively. However, networks based outside Germany have repeatedly been able to successfully defend themselves in court against the purely German regulations in the past. The DSA now provides a secure legal framework across Europe. 

Since August 2023, very large platforms and search engines with more than 45 million users per month in the EU have had to implement certain requirements. The transition period ended on February 17, 2024 and the European rules now apply to all service providers, regardless of their size.

What does the Digital Services Act regulate?

HateAid, a partner of the Telekom initiative #NoHateSpeech, summarizes what the new EU law entails on its website:

  • All platforms must allow posts to be reported.
  • Those affected can complain and request a second review of their reported post.
  • Those affected can turn to out-of-court dispute resolution.
  • Very large online platforms such as YouTube, X (formerly Twitter) or Facebook must disclose algorithms and other internal processes.
  • Scientists and civil society organizations can gain access to the platforms' data for independent investigations.

In Germany, the DSA is being implemented by the “Digitale-Dienste-Gesetz”, which has not yet been passed. The law adapts German law to the EU regulation (DSA).
The next few years will show whether the EU regulation achieves its objectives. Anja Zalewski, also a senior security expert at Telekom, sees a great need for action: "First of all, these regulations are to be welcomed. They create a good basis with a signal effect and a good external impact outside Europe. The extent to which they can be implemented in practice remains to be seen. Some of the regulations are very formalistic and bureaucratic; in our view, it is not yet ready for practical implementation. Success will largely depend on how well the EU countries clarify the outstanding details and how well the regulations are implemented in practice."
According to the two experts, the effects of the new regulations on Deutsche Telekom are also not yet foreseeable in detail. However, it is clear that Deutsche Telekom will also have to appoint a contact person for complaints and that the new requirements will be integrated into existing processes. Anja Zalewski: "First and foremost, the DSA will have an impact on social platforms, as this is where hatred and incitement are most common due to the enormous reach and opportunities for interaction."

The fight against hate and disinformation needs civil society

Lawyers Anja Zalewski and Christine Rößler agree that the EU regulation lays an important foundation. "The new regulations significantly strengthen the position of users. They have simple reporting channels and can communicate directly with companies," explains Christine Rößler. Anja Zalewski adds: "It is also possible to take legal action against decisions made by companies. The new regulations for companies to cooperate with the authorities will make it easier to combat criminal content. But laws alone cannot solve the problem."
Digital civil courage and media literacy play just as important a role as the legal framework. Christine Rößler summarizes: "Each and every one of us is called upon to stand up for respectful interaction on the Internet. As users, we must continue to take action ourselves, actively counter hate speech and consciously demand our rights."

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