Digital Services Act Compliance Highlights Need For U.S. Regulation

The Digital Services Act (DSA) is a groundbreaking move. Passed by the European Union, it aims to change how social media platforms operate and provide a safer experience for users online. Voted alongside the Digital Markets Act in 2022, the DSA will gradually come into full effect by February 2024. Intended to transform the digital landscape, the DSA promises to protect the rights of users online, hold platforms accountable for illicit content, and harmonize tech regulation across the EU. The policy is designed to mitigate systemic risks inherent to social media platforms, to reduce misinformation and manipulation, and ultimately, to establish democratic oversight over Big Tech.

Ahead of “compliance day,” Real Facebook Oversight Board board member and former Member of the E.U. Parliament Marietje Schaake published an op-ed in The Hill outlining why RFOB supports the DSA. In her piece, she writes that “the DSA is a milestone that should inspire Americans to finally act and rein in runaway social media harms.”

On August 28, compliance day, Meta, Google, Snap, TikTok, and others paraded out new measures giving users more choice and freedom over their online experience. Facebook rolled out new ad transparency protections, users ages 13-17 on Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat will stop receiving targeted ads, and YouTube will expand measures for researcher access.

What’s most glaring: these companies have the capacity to extend compliance to the rest of the world, if they choose to. 

The crux of the DSA is focused on the largest social media and commerce platforms. With the onset of the DSA, the EU can regulate exceptions to liability across platforms. Working with different platforms, the DSA encourages stronger detection, flagging, and removal of illegal content by providing users with more reporting options for illegal content and mandating cooperation with national authorities. Other provisions of the DSA include limitations on recommender systems, increased protections and privacy for minors, restrictions on targeted advertising based on sensitive personal data, and a ban on “dark patterns.”These stipulations will force tech companies to change how they design and implement their platforms. 

Furthermore, the DSA mandates more transparency from tech companies, including expanded access to data for researchers and audits performed yearly by a third party. The penalties for failing to meet the DSA’s standards are harsh, with fines of up to 6% of global revenue, or an EU-wide ban.

The DSA is also implemented with an “asymmetric effect”, where larger platforms are subject to stricter enforcement. Instead of attempting to hold every platform accountable at the same level, the law is focused on the most impactful online platforms. Internet hosting providers and small platforms will have easier regulations to comply with, but tech giants like Google and Meta will receive far more regulatory demands, vigilance, and enforcement. This allows the EU to focus its time, energy, and resources on executing the DSA’s requirements.

Users outside of Europe are unlikely to receive the benefits of the DSA as the measure targets platforms with over 45 million European users. Nineteen platforms total fall into this category, including Amazon, Apple’s App Store, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and X (formerly Twitter). These platforms have made adjustments and performed stress tests to comply with the DSA ahead of the rollout, but these changes are mostly limited to European users. 

Social media users now have the option to opt out of recommendation systems and view their feed chronologically – but only in the EU. The modifications will vastly improve the experience of European users online, but users outside of Europe will still be subject to the same platform policies they’ve dealt with prior to the DSA. Unfortunately, the DSA has not incentivized companies to make a holistic change across their platforms – which is why national governments should follow Europe’s example and pass policies to hold tech companies accountable.