International conference : Content moderation in the age of DSA

DSA, regulation, european union, digital services act, european commission, content moderation

Christine Balague and Clothilde Legros


As Christine Balague recalled in her introduction social media and the internet have become a major part of our daily lives and the way we get information. In a context of digitalisation of debate and information, many figures remind us of the importance of moderation. As a 2022 Eurobarometer survey reminds us around 45% of EU residents frequently use social networks to follow the news. However, this same survey demonstrates that 30% of the respondents show a lack of trust in the media. In addition, a 2016 Eurobarometer survey also highlighted the fact that around 75% of
people who followed or participated in online debates had witnessed or experienced abuse, threat or hate speech. She then explained that DSA aims to address all theses issues by implementing new obligations and measures concerning transparency, access to key data, traceability.

During the first day of the conference, several sessions questioning the drifts that currently affect online communication (manipulation of information, brutalization of exchanges, foreign interference) and the new rules, techniques and practices underlying moderation were held.

The first session addressed the topic of freedom of expression. The speakers Joris Van Hoboken, Charles Girard, Nate Persily and the moderator of the session Sarah Nicole mainly focused on the tensions between the fundamental right of freedom of expression and the need to regulate it to preserve other fundamental rights. They also discussed the new challenges and definition of freedom of expression in a digital context where speech is anonymized and widely distributed. The session showed that the main challenge is to control hate speech and fake news without resorting to censorship.

The second session dealt in a practical way with the issue of misinformation and online hate. The speakers, Valentine, Kevin Limonier, Manon Berriche and the moderator Inna Lyubareva presented their research work. They addressed different topics: the political colour of fake news broadcasters, the structure of online hate speech, disinformation by the Russian authorities in the context of the war in Ukraine.

The third session dealt with the way in which the platforms deal with fake news and poor-quality content. During this session moderated by Sylvain Parasie, Paolo Papotti, Emeric Henry and Julia Cagé’s work was presented. Their research addresses topics related to fact-checking, automatic detection of problematic content, content rating by experts or crowdsourcing by online communities such as the Birdwatch created on Twitter.

The last session of the first day, moderated by Christine Balagué dealt with the question of algorithms and content moderation. Patrick Maillé, Robert Gorwa and Grazia Cecere discussed the biases and flaws of algorithmic content moderation. This moderation can be influenced by stereotypes or can allow information belonging to new themes to pass through, which are not in fact captured by the algorithms.

The second day of the conference focused on the issues of platform regulation and the new European DSA, with different actors.

To introduce this second part of the conference, Odile Gauthier, Director General of the Institut Mines Télécom welcomed Jean-Noël Barrot, the French Minister for digital transition and telecommunications.

In his introduction, the Minister explained that DSA is only a toolbox now and that its implementation needs and will be watched. According to the Minister, three main topics much be addressed by regulations: disinformation, children protection and the fight again online sexist violence.

A session moderated by Dominique Bouiller in which Florence G’Sell, Rachel Griffin and Daphné Keller questioned the European-American view of platform regulation addressed was firstly held. Several round tables were then organised with players in the field of regulation and more broadly in the digital sector.

A first round table, moderated by Severine Dussolier, invited several digital regulation actors who given the opportunity to express themselves about DSA and the scope and priorities of such regulation.

Prabhat Agarwal, head of Unit at the European Commission was the first speaker. According to him, DSA implied a lot of compromises between the 27 members of the European Union. He explained that at the beginning of this initiative many people did not believe in its outcome given the difficulty of the negotiations to come. Mr. Agarwal is optimistic concerning the future of this text and thinks that even if DSA is not completely usable as it stands, it constitutes a historic achievement and will be an essential basis for the following regulations. 

Celene Craig, Chief Executive of Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, then took the floor. In her view, it is important to consider the similarities and differences between European countries in their understanding of digital regulation. However, despite the differing views, the implementation of the DSA will, according to Ms Craig, require increased collaboration between regulators in the 27 European countries.

The third speaker was Jan Gerlach, Public Policy Director at the Wikimedia Foundation. This latter wanted to come back to the transparency aspect of the DSA and regulation. He reminded that the challenge of a regulation favouring transparency is not to compromise the security and the right to anonymity of users.

Frederic Borbobza, Deputy Director General at the Arcom then took the floor. The deputy supports the systemic approach as the right one and argues that digital actors and authorities need to build bridges between the texts and the practical reality of regulation. He reminded that the expertise of regulators like Arcom was decisive in the implementation of a text like the DSA.

Clément Wolf, Head of Information Quality Policy, Google, finally took the floor. He explained that he defended regulation but that this should not be at the expense of access to certain information and diversity. To be effective, he argues that actors need to arrive at a standardised definition of what constitutes hate content. According to Mr. Wolf, the DSA is a good basis for achieving all these objectives.

These actors all spoke about the DSA from different perspectives and did not approach this regulation with the same order of priority. However, this roundtable showed unanimity on the need to act at a systemic and standardised level for better regulatory efficiency and better communication between institutional regulators and platforms.

To introduce the afternoon, Rebekah Tromble, in her Key note spoke about the need for data access for researchers.

The second-round table about research, civil society and the audit of platforms was then held by Inna Lyubareva. Serge Abiteboul, talked about the balance that needs to be found between platforms’ transparency and the protection of corporate secret. Chris Gray, remined that transparency is indeed necessary for democracies and that we need to find common regulation standards among Europe and internationally. Nate Persily agreed on the importance of regulation and reminded that public disclosures obligations for certain kind of data should exist. Shaden Shabayek added that transparency must be addressed in a more concrete way and question what data could be available without a democratic or a privacy cost.
Jan Penfrat talked more in detail about the largest platforms. According to him it is normal that they are the ones mainly targeted by DSA as they reach even more people than the traditional media. He explained that, in his opinion, it is utopian to think that platforms can be regulated in the same way as the media, we need to find an adapted regulation.

The third and last round table, moderated by Christine Balagué addressed regulation and the national dynamics of DSA. Jean Cattan firstly explained that there is a need for ex ante regulation at a European scale. DSA could thus provide a unified and systemic regulation and France would be willing to take its part in DSA implementation. Bertrand Du Marais added that if national regulators (CNIL, ARCOM, ARCEP) have a major part, we need a corporation on a European level.

According to Serguei Guriev, there is even a need of new dedicated gate keepers, of adapted institutions in the field of regulation. Benoit Loutrel agreed with this idea, saying that a new European ecosystem of data regulation has to be built and that DSA is the basis of it. Finally, Anne-Sophie Taillandier remined that the legal and financial part are keys in DSA implementation. There is a need of money and of an adapted legal framework to guarantee DSA efficiency. She was also expressed her views and gave details about the European Gaia X project. She explained that Gaia X brings people from different companies, research institutions, associations, administrations, and politics together to build a digital infrastructure for Europe. This project could allow more independence and sovereignty for EU. 

This conference provided a broad analysis of the achievements of a text such as the DSA, but also of the challenges that remain in implementing it.

To go further here is the link to the conference website

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