Digital Services Act Update: Media Exemption in 2022

Happy New Year! We hope you’ve had a restful break and are ready for the long road ahead in EU digital policy and the fight against disinformation.

For the EU counter-disinformation community, 2022 is starting off where 2021 left off, that is, with the risk of a media exemption derailing the Digital Services Act’s ability to tackle online disinformation. Before the break, the DSA’s lead committee (IMCO) successfully rejected an amendment that would have prevented large social media companies from taking action on disinformation that violates their terms of services if it comes from a press publication, audiovisual media service, or other editorial media.

We have reason to fear the reemergence of a media exemption during the Parliament’s plenary vote next week. If you wish to take action with us and other members of the community to make sure the final vote will reject any version of this dangerous loophole, please get in touch with us.

Disinfo News and Updates

  • Swedish Disinfo Agency. Ahead of their general election in September, Sweden has created an agency to combat disinformation. The Swedish Psychological Defense Agency, which began operations on January 1st, will “identify, analyze and respond to the impact of undue information influence and other misleading information” and “develop and strengthen society’s overall capacity for psychological defense.
  • Facebook vs. Polish Konfederacja. Last week Meta removed the Facebook page of the Polish opposition nationalist Confederation Party, Konfederacja, for repeated violations of its community standards on Covid-19 misinformation and hate speech. Both Konfederacja and the Polish government view the move as interference and “cyber censorship”. The party says they received only an automatic response to their appeal. Meanwhile, the Polish Secretary of State for cybersecurity has written to Meta to reverse the decision.(NB: This event will likely bear on the DSA discussion on the restoring of legal content and complaint-handling and out-of-court dispute settlement mechanisms.) Also in Poland, the President vetoed a controversial media ownership bill that would have denied broadcast licenses to companies based outside the EEA.
  • Political Ads in Hungary. Megafon, a Hungarian fund financing pro-government social media personalities, tops the list of the highest-spending Hungarian political advertisers on Facebook. 

EU Policy Monitor 

  • France takes the EU presidency. France will use its six months at the head of the Council of the EU to push forward on the Digital Services and Digital Markets Acts. “The French presidency must be a moment of truth for the regulation and accountability of digital platformsannounced President Macron.
  • Political Ads. On Monday, the lead Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee presented MEPs with its legislative proposal on political advertising transparency and targeting, to enter force before the next European elections in 2024. Sandro Gozi (Renew, FR) will be the lead rapporteur. Organisations can submit comments on the Commission’s proposal until January 31st.
  • Media Freedom. On December 21st, the Commission opened a consultation to consider two options to ensure media freedom in the EU. The first is a recommendation to Member States on media market control, transparency of media ownership, and editorial independence. The second is a legislative instrument supported by the European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services (ERGA), reinforcing the body’s powers and resources. Feedback is open until March 21st. The Commission intends to present the text at the end of June.

The Latest from the EU DisinfoLab Profiting from disinformation and low-quality content Our newest OSINT investigation digs into the case of Marseille News, a French clickbait news website that was quoted by several prominent French politicians to spread COVID-19 disinformation. This investigation shows how actors driven by monetisation objectives can significantly amplify disinformation. It also demonstrates the ways that search engines and news aggregators are vulnerable to error and exploitation by malicious or profit-seeking actors – something we hope to see the Digital Services Act address.

Read More

Research, Stories and Updates from Elsewhere

  • Researchers at the University of Helsinki conducted a study on disinformation in the Hungarian context. They sought to identify the social psychological factors contributing to susceptibility to false information.
  • Jacob N. Shapiro and Alicia Wanless reflect in Lawfare on a recent U.N. resolution on disinformation, first introduced by Pakistan.
  • Access Now, Liberties, and EDRi released a joint report and policy guide on proportionate interventions to reduce online disinformation while safeguarding fundamental rights like free speech, free thought, and freedom of information. 

Events and Announcements

  • The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression has launched a call for comments on “opportunities, challenges and threats to media in the digital age”. More here.
  • Digital Europe Programme (DIGITAL), an EU funding programme focused on bringing digital technology to businesses, citizens and public administrations, has launched the first set of calls for proposals. More here.
  • The United States Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) announced a Request for Statements of Interest (RSOI) from organizations interested in programs that support Internet Freedom. Deadline: February 25, 2022. More info here.
  • 11 Jan – MEP Alexandra Geese (Greens/EFA), shadow rapporteur on the Digital Services Act and HateAid are holding a discussion on image-based sexual abuse in the DSA. Register here.
  • 13 Jan – EPD, Carnegie Europe and OGNFE are hosting a webinar reflecting on Summit for Democracy. Watch here.
  • 11 Jan, 25 Jan, 8 Feb – Prague-based media development organization Transitions is holding a series of webinars on “Boosting Disinformation Resilience Among Central European Seniors”. Sign-up here.
  • 1 Feb – ISD holding a webinar to present their work on the mobilization of the French identitarian movement on social media (in French). Sign-up here.