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DSA Reactive: Citizen groups celebrate historic legislation as EU moves to rein in Big Tech

Civil society network People Vs Big Tech welcomes turning point in fight to end toxic business model of giant tech platforms and calls for rigorous enforcement of new law.

Brussels, 23 April –  A coalition of dozens of civil society groups across Europe have welcomed the new Digital Services Act (DSA) as a historic step forward in the fight for a better, safer internet, and have called on EU leaders to ensure the new law is rigorously enforced.

The DSA, which was agreed in Brussels shortly before 2am, is the world’s most ambitious and far-reaching attempt to stop the harms inflicted on ordinary people by giant tech companies – including the amplification of disinformation and hate speech, abuse of personal data and undermining of democracy.

Although the final text of the law had not yet been released, the political deal includes key provisions fought for by civil society, including a requirement for large platforms like Facebook to assess their risk of fueling problems like disinformation and restrictions on some of the most invasive forms of surveillance advertising.

Transparency measures, designed to break open the ‘black box’ of platform algorithms and allow for greater scrutiny and accountability, were also agreed, including widened access to platform data for third-party researchers including civil society.

The deal reached overnight is a top-level political agreement, with the details of the text yet to be published. However, if the final text lives up to promises and is properly enforced, campaigners say the law should help to drive culture change in Silicon Valley, pushing internet platforms to account for human rights in all aspects of their design and operation and breaking Big Tech’s attention-based, profit-first business model. Crucially, the DSA calls for systems reform over policing individual pieces of content - an approach that goes beyond the ineffectual whack-a-mole moderation efforts of platforms, which carry grave risks for freedom of speech.

This agreement comes after months of hard campaigning from civil society groups and in the face of unprecedented lobbying by tech companies, who have been spending €97 million annually attempting to influence digital legislation in Europe, according to research.

In a counter move, more than 100 civil society groups from across Europe joined the People Vs Big Tech coalition in 2021, and have since worked together to keep citizens’ interests at the heart of the negotiations, via direct advocacy, online pressure, protest actions and other tactics. Tens of thousands of citizens also signed a People’s Declaration against Big Tech.

But People Vs Big Tech members also warned EU leaders that the success of the law in reining in the destructive business model of the giant tech corporations will depend on rigorous enforcement, which civil society will hold them accountable for. In particular, they called on politicians to prevent a repeat of the failure to enforce GDPR, Europe’s flagship data protection law, and to ensure the details of new transparency rules do not allow platforms to side-step their obligations.

Flora Rebello Arduini, campaign director at SumOfUs: “This law is a massive victory for people across Europe who have stood up to demand an end to the era of Big Tech abuses. It also sends a strong signal to leaders everywhere — citizens will not sit back while unregulated and unrestrained tech corporations play havoc with their communities. Now EU leaders must deliver on their promises and make sure this groundbreaking legislation is properly enforced.”

Sarah Andrew, Legal Director, Avaaz: “Europe is now on the brink of a digital revolution - we’re witnessing the beginning of the end of the era of toxic social media. After two decades of Big Tech writing their own rules to benefit no one but themselves, from now on they will be accountable for the harm caused by their choices. No more free rein to accelerate disinformation and harmful content to millions. No more putting profit before people. No more hiding the data needed to hold these companies to account. The DSA brings in a new culture of care for Silicon Valley, which the platforms must honour - and if they don’t, Europe can now force them to do so."

Rafal Pankowski, co-founder of the 'NEVER AGAIN' Association: "We sincerely hope the new regulations will contribute to tackling the massive problems such as hate speech, disinformation, incitement to violence, and genocide denial on social media platforms. We pledge to continue our efforts in this field together with our partners and allies."

Omri Preiss, Managing Director of nonprofit Alliance4Europe: “This new law being adopted is a historic leap forward towards an internet that respects human rights and enables democracy. This shows that Europe can and must act boldly to build a better, more humane digital future. This could not have been achieved without active and effective civil society cooperation, a coalition of nonprofits that took on the big tech platforms and won out. However, there is still a road to travel yet - this legislation must be enforced in full, and still leaves open questions, and to shape a humane tech future, much more ambitious action is needed. We will be there to see that commitments are delivered, and for the next rounds coming up.”

Kyle Taylor, Director of Fair Vote UK: “The DSA is truly historic, world-first legislation and its passage shows that big tech is not too big to regulate and must be accountable to governments and citizens. Our hope is that it will be a guidepost for the UK and other countries around the world so we can build a collective, global solution to what is absolutely a global problem.”

Alexandre Alaphilippe, Executive Director of EU DisinfoLab: “For the community countering disinformation, the Digital Services Act ends the era of privileges for the few and will now ensure accountability for all. We’ve been fighting against sector exemptions, we’ve been fighting for users to know why the disinformation they flag is not removed, and we’ve been fighting to open the black box of content moderation decisions. We welcome this long-awaited regulation expanding the toolbox for civil society and regulators to hold platforms to account. But a toolbox is only a toolbox. Only the collective empowerment of civil society to grasp these tools in the DSA will tackle disinformation.”

Katarzyna Szymielewicz, co-founder of Panoptykon Foundation: “The mere fact that we now comment on the text that has not yet been released - after having been tweaked and stretched by the negotiating parties until the very last moment - tells something about EU politics. Civil society had to keep up with the secrecy of negotiations, unprecedented lobbying pressure from the big tech and the incredibly fast pace imposed by the French. Even if the text of the DSA lands below our initial expectations for the overhaul of the surveillance-based business model, we won important protections for citizens affected by toxic algorithms and targeted advertising. These safeguards are a must-have in the stormy times of information crisis and forceful propaganda.”

Nienke Palstra, Senior Campaigner of Global Witness: “Thanks to the EU’s leadership a new era for holding tech companies accountable has begun, safeguarding people’s rights and protecting our democracies from manipulation and distortion. Despite heavy lobbying by the tech industry, the EU’s ban on the most invasive forms of surveillance advertising begins the crucial curtailing of Big Tech’s toxic business model. Now the EU passes the baton to the rest of the world, not least the US, to put in place the regulations that are sorely needed if we are to guarantee people come before profit.”

Alice Stollmeyer, Founder & Executive Director of Defend Democracy: "Europe is leading by example in regulating digital technologies. This new law is a good first step in holding Big Tech to account. Now democracies must urgently team up to take further steps. By being key facilitators of polarising content, profit-driven digital platforms are not only a threat to our democracy, but also to our public health and national security. Too often, we have seen that disinformation and online polarisation can even be deadly. We cannot afford to waste any more time. The cost to our democracies and societies of not acting now is too high."

Juliane von Reppert-Bismarck, Executive Director and Founder of Lie Detectors: "With its provisions on surveillance advertising, the DSA is a positive first step in reining in the drivers of disinformation. Its application must steer clear of undue reliance on content-moderation as a solution, which - as we have seen in recent years - has proved ineffectual at best and at worst creates risks to press freedom in Europe and beyond. The Act must therefore be followed by urgent efforts by the EU to review, update and apply powerful tools at its disposal – including antitrust tools. Resistance to this will be strong and disinformation will not stand still and wait. In the meantime young and old urgently need to be given tools to apply critical thinking to online content, with all the necessary care for independence from the interests of Big Tech itself."

Xavier Brandao, Co-founder and President of Je Suis Là: “We congratulate the EU decision makers for their work, and for this big step forward. This is the law #jesuislà and its members have been waiting for a long time. We are hopeful the unregulated, unfair, unequal internet will soon be a thing of the past. Count on us to be there to help make it happen!”

Kristina Wilfore, Co-Founder, #ShePersisted: “We have much to celebrate now that the lagging arm of legislation is beginning to catch up to the under-checked growth of Big Tech. From the perspective of women’s empowerment, this is a crucial first step towards the passing of subsequent proposed EU legislation such as criminalizing cyber gender-based violence, non-consensual sharing of intimate images, cyber stalking and harassment. We can use this victory to redouble efforts to ensure that digital platforms take responsibility for safety standards on their products so that women can realize full freedom of expression online.”

Claudia Prettner, Policy Adviser, Amnesty International: “Today’s agreement on the Digital Services Act represents a watershed moment in the history of internet regulation. For too long, our most intimate data has been weaponized to undermine our  right to privacy, amplify disinformation, fuel racism, or even influence our own beliefs and opinions. The DSA moves us toward an online world that better respects our human rights by effectively putting the brakes on Big Tech’s uncontrolled power.”

Josephine Ballon, Head of Legal, HateAid: “With this legislation the EU has taken the lead on an effective regulation of Big Tech that has proven to put profit over the safety of their users several times. As a consultation centre for victims of online violence, we hope that it will finally create an equality of arms between platforms and users and make sure that users’ rights do not end on national borders.”