Digital Services Law: Moderation or Web Censorship? – Science and the future

This article is taken from the monthly journal Sciences et Avenir – La Recherche #905-906 July-August 2022.

On April 23, European Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton publicly welcomed the EU institutions’ agreement on the Digital Services Act (DSA). This regulation aims to curb online exchanges to combat misinformation, defamation and justification of terrorism. He intends to enforce European digital media laws at the risk of restricting freedom of expression.

Two days earlier, Barack Obama, during a conference at Stanford University (USA), insisted on the need to regulate social networks in order to preserve democratic institutions. Also in April, capricious billionaire Elon Musk also justified, in the name of defending democracy, his desire to buy Twitter and set up transparent moderation there.

What is reprehensible in the public space should remain so online.

The total lack of control on the web leads to an outbreak of symbolic violence, the devastating consequences of which are evidenced by the murder of Samuel Paty in 2020. The resulting mass dissemination of fake news also has detrimental effects. The space for exchange and discussion on which democracy is based is cluttered to the point where it is fragmented and debate becomes inaudible. Therefore, moderation is necessary. At the same time, the resulting restriction of freedoms seems unbearable to us. The fate of the anti-hate online bill introduced in 2019 by LREM MP Letizia Avia bears witness to this: the Constitutional Council censored key provisions deemed draconian.

The DSA overcomes the difficulty by citing the common law: what is reprehensible in the public space, such as hate speech or racial discrimination, must remain so in the digital space. But how to do it in practice? On Twitter alone, it would take armies of censors to filter out 500 million daily messages, unless we resort to algorithms, which could be worse!

Jean-Gabriel Ganacha is a professor at the Sorbonne University in Paris, an artificial intelligence researcher at LIP6 (Sorbonne University, CNRS), and a former president of the CNRS ethics committee. Latest published work: Virtual servitudes, Seuil, 2022.

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