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Climate Change

EU Digital Services Act Is A Big Deal For Climate Advocates

The European Union has a new law to limit the power of online social media giants.

After a marathon 16-hour bargaining session between EU member states, the EU’s executive arm, and EU parliamentarians, the European Union this week agreed on the terms of what is called the Digital Services Act. It bans advertising on social media aimed at children or based on sensitive data such as religion, gender, race, and political opinions. It also allows EU governments to request removal of illegal content, including material that promotes terrorism, child sexual abuse, hate speech, and commercial scams.

Under the terns of the new law, social media platforms will be required to allow users to flag illegal content in an “easy and effective way” so that it can be swiftly removed. Online marketplaces like Amazon will need similar systems for suspect products, such as counterfeit sneakers or unsafe toys, according to a report by The Guardian.

Thierry Breton, the internal market commissioner for the European Union, said, “With the DSA, the time of big online platforms behaving like they are too big to care is coming to an end.”

“We have a deal on the DSA. The Digital Services Act will make sure that what is illegal offline is also seen and dealt with as illegal online — not as a slogan, as reality,” Margrethe Vestager, who heads the EU’s antitrust activities. The DSA is the second prong of her strategy to rein in the US tech giants. Last month, she won backing from the 27-country bloc and EU parliament for landmark rules called the Digital Markets Act that could force Google, Amazon, Apple, Meta, and Microsoft to change their core business practices in Europe.

 

The DSA has some serious teeth baked into it. Large online platforms including Facebook, Google, and Twitter will have to do more to tackle illegal content or face multi-billion euro fines. The terms of the DSA allow for the imposition of fines up to 6% of a company’s global earnings, which in the case of  Facebook could be as much as $7 billion. In addition, repeated breaches of the DSA could result in a tech firm being banned from doing business in the EU. The new rules are scheduled to go into effect in 2024.

The online companies could be forced to hand over data related to their algorithms to regulators and researchers. The companies also face a yearly fee of up to 0.05% of worldwide annual revenue to cover the costs of monitoring their compliance.

Flora Rebello Arduini, a director at SumOfUs, which campaigns for corporate accountability, tells The Guardian, “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.”

Other measures in the DSA were created in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the online disinformation campaigns that followed. The provisions of the new law will require large online platforms and online search engines to take specific measures during a crisis to limit those disinformation tactics.

The Guardian says the DSA comes at a time when political and regulatory action against online platforms around the world is becoming common. The UK is introducing the Online Safety Bill, which imposes a duty of care on tech firms to shelter users from harmful content. In the US, the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission have filed antitrust actions against Google and Facebook.

In a statement, Google said, “As the law is finalized and implemented, the details will matter. We look forward to working with policymakers to get the remaining technical details right to ensure the law works for everyone.” That’s code for, “OK, you got your blaring headlines. Now the real work begins.” Don’t expect the companies to meekly accept these new wide-ranging restraints on their power to make money by disseminating lies, half truths, and distortions.

That’s the key for climate activists. The big tech companies have given aid and comfort to the highly paid professional liars who work for the fossil fuel industry, helping them to spread their campaigns of fear and doubt.

As Bill McKibben said in his Earth Day remarks this week, scientist tell us we have about 7 more years before climate change tips over into an irreversible climate disaster.

If we don’t do this now, we will never do this. Humans will begin to die as heat, wars, rising sea levels, and famine become the norm. Some of you will wail that the new law in Europe is a violation of free speech, but the real violation is distributing life threatening disinformation in pursuit of profits. What these companies do is equivalent to telling a child to place both hands on a hot stove and leave them there. Does the impetus to make money know no bounds?

 
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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his homes in Florida and Connecticut or anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. You can follow him on Twitter but not on any social media platforms run by evil overlords like Facebook.

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