Illustration of the Conference's notes with the logos and a woman pointing at a conversation

Conference’s notes – DSA and Platform Regulation Conference 2024

On February 15th and 16th of 2024, a large-scale conference on online platform regulation, the “DSA and Platform Regulation Conference”, took place in Amsterdam.

As the DSA (Digital Services Act) became applicable to all intermediary services, the Conference constituted a unique occasion to gather scholars, policymakers, and CSOs (Civil Society Organizations) to exchange on issues and opportunities related to this important piece of legislation. The event brought together 70 speakers and 250 attendees with various upbringings, coming from all around Europe and beyond, creating a particularly stimulating atmosphere. 

The first day was mainly devoted to three parallel sessions, giving the floor to researchers to present inspiring papers. Various topics were explored: the challenges of realizing meaningful transparency and accountability in platform governance, the impact of the DSA beyond Europe, the assessment of the risk-based approach in the context of content moderation… Cutting-edge research was showcased, fostering fruitful discussions with the audience. A vast majority of scholars shared a common perception: the DSA is a very comprehensive legislation that has been eagerly awaited, given that the self-regulation of online platforms failed to produce the desired outcomes. Moreover, many researchers acknowledged that the prime metric to evaluate the DSA’s success will be the effectiveness of its implementation. In other words, the DSA will only be as good as its enforcement. Consequently, numerous policy recommendations were formulated, taking advantage of the fact that some regulators and policymakers were attending the conference.

During one of the parallel sessions, Suzanne Vergnolle, Holder of the Chair on Online Content Moderation, presented her report “Putting collective intelligence to the enforcement of the DSA”. Its main argument is that the creation of expert groups both at the national and European levels would enhance the enforcement of the DSA’s provisions. Composed of independent experts, CSOs, the European Board for Digital Services and the European Commission, these groups could bring an evidence-based dimension to the regulation’s enforcement. Regular group meetings would allow the members to work on a wide range of topics, from the preparation of delegated acts to the most pressing enforcement issues. The presentation attracted interest from a wide range of stakeholders who asked for more details on specific elements, including the selection process and the expected outcome of the groups’ work.

After the parallel sessions, the opening plenary rounded off the first day. Some scholars critically appraised key aspects of the DSA. For instance, Rachel Griffin presented her paper “The Law and Political Economy of Online Visibility.” This essay explains that, while the DSA attempts to correct market failures and prevent the spread of hateful speech, it will not initiate a shift from the “political economy of online visibility.”

Picture of the main conference room (both the audience and the stage are visible)

The second day consisted of a succession of keynotes and panel discussions. This time, speakers included researchers but also representatives of CSOs, regulators, and policymakers. Because of their various backgrounds they all look at the DSA through a different lens, which made their panel talks all the more enriching. According to many, one of the most crucial points of contention of the regulation is its data access provision. Indeed, article 40 of the DSA allows vetted researchers to access data from the VLOPs and VLOSEs. This innovative provision provides researchers with an unique opportunity to understand in depth the functioning of these very large services and to contribute in holding them accountable. Many scholars stressed the importance of a proper implementation of article 40 of the DSA to deter platforms from circumventing their responsibilities and to enable lawmakers to achieve their goals. CSOs expressed their willingness to partake in the DSA enforcement process, echoing Suzanne Vergnolle’s report and recommendations. Necessarily, because of the CSOs grassroots-based expertise, their contributions would be very valuable. CSOs also regretted not being more solicited by online platforms. This is particularly disappointing as they could bring up some pertinent suggestions, for instance regarding content moderation policies or the review of transparency reports. Overall, most speakers agreed that the DSA is an ambitious regulation but were looking forward to the enforcement phase.

Finally, the Conference’s organizers announced considering making this event an annual occurrence. Having such an annual forum for discussions would be a fantastic opportunity to reflect on the DSA’s enforcement, share research and expert insights. It would also be a good occasion to measure the magnitude of the DSA’s “Brussels effect”, i.e. to measure the influence of the standards set by the DSA over the legislation of other countries..  

On a last note, it was interesting to notice that, while many stakeholders were represented, very few representatives of the industry did attend the conference. This may come as a surprise as they could have garnered valuable ideas to enhance the implementation of their policies and practices. Could this be interpreted as a lack of interest for the DSA enforcement on their part?

Full program of the conference: