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Meet the VLOPs! The EU Extends its Censorship Powers


On Tuesday this week, the European Commission announced its first list of designated Very Large Online Platforms – or VLOPs – that will be subject to “content moderation” requirements and obligations to combat “disinformation” under the EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA). As VLOPs, the designated services will be required “to assess and mitigate their systemic risks and to provide robust content moderation tools.”

Or as a subheading in the Commission announcement pithily puts it: “More diligent content moderation, less disinformation.”

As discussed in my previous articles on the DSA here and here, the legislation creates enforcement mechanisms – most notably, the threat of massive fines – for ensuring that online platforms comply with commitments to remove or otherwise suppress “disinformation” that they have undertaken in the EU’s hitherto ostensibly voluntary Code of Practice on Disinformation.

Unsurprisingly, the list of designated VLOPs includes a variety of services offered by all the most high-profile signatories of the Code: Twitter, Google, Meta, Microsoft, and TikTok.

But, far more surprisingly, it also includes several platforms that are not signatories of the Code and to which the Commission appears now to be extending the Code/DSA requirements unilaterally. The latter include Amazon, Apple (in the form of the App Store), and even Wikipedia. 

The Commission has even designated the favorite messaging service of every filter-crazy preteen, Snapchat! Curiously, however, WhatsApp is not named.

Since many of the newly designated platforms are not publishing platforms per se, it is unclear how exactly the “content moderation” requirements will apply to them.

What will “content moderation” mean for Amazon, for example? That user reviews containing alleged “disinformation” will have to be removed? Or will books or magazines that the European Commission deems to be vessels or purveyors of “disinformation” have to be purged from the catalogue?

The inclusion of the Apple App Store is perhaps even more ominous. Will its subjection to the Code/DSA requirements provide an indirect route for the EU to demand the removal of apps of non-designated platforms that the Commission, however, deems channels of disinformation? Telegram, for example?

And what about Wikipedia? The DSA invests the European Commission with the power to impose fines of up to 6 percent of global turnover on VLOPs. But Wikipedia is a non-profit that is funded by donations. It does not sell anything, so it does not have any turnover. But presumably the Commission plans to treat its fundraising income as such.

Furthermore, Wikipedia is not a publishing platform, but a user-edited collaborative encyclopedia. If it is to be subject to the EU’s “content moderation” requirements, what can this possibly mean other than that Wikipedia will have to remove user edits that the European Commission deems to be “mis-” or “disinformation?” The European Commission will thus become the very arbiter of encyclopedic knowledge and truth. 

The European Commission’s list of designated entities, comprising 17 Very Large Online Platforms as well as 2 Very Large Online Search Engines (VLOSEs), is reproduced below.  

Very Large Online Platforms:

  • Alibaba AliExpress
  • Amazon Store
  • Apple AppStore
  • Facebook
  • Google Play
  • Google Maps
  • Google Shopping
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn
  • Pinterest
  • Snapchat
  • TikTok
  • Twitter
  • Wikipedia
  • YouTube
  • Zalando

Very Large Online Search Engines:

  • Bing
  • Google Search

Published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
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