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  • Writer's pictureBenji Loney

How VLOPs Have Addressed The Digital Services Act

August 25, 2023, was a landmark day in the European digital ecosystem.


Very Large Online Platforms (VLOPs), such as Facebook, YouTube, and Pinterest, were mandated to fully comply with the obligations of the Digital Services Act (DSA) a little over a month ago.


Now, they must gear up to address the newly enacted UK Online Safety Bill, in addition to an array of forthcoming regulations that will further expand their compliance responsibilities.


Among the wave of information on these new regulations, tech platforms that are not categorized as VLOPs may struggle to understand and adapt to these new compliance requirements - and observing how the big players are implementing changes can be a learning experience.


The Digital Services Act (DSA) is a game-changer in how online platforms operate within the EU. As Very Large Online Platforms (VLOPs) scramble to adapt and comply, there are valuable lessons to be gleaned for medium-sized platforms, which will also be hit by regulations from February 17th 2024.


The Rise of a New Class of Complaints


The critical issue at hand is that the nature of user reporting is changing: companies must effectively manage a new class of illegal content reports. These are referred to as "notice and action" complaints submitted through the mechanisms established in Article 14.


Unlike the typical one-click "report content" button most of us are accustomed to, this class of complaint requires platforms to carve out a special reporting category and handling process. If you want to get a flavor of just how different this is, check out how platforms like YouTube and Pinterest deal with it:


YouTube's Approach to DSA “Notice and Action” Requirements


Language & Terminology


On top of their current Terms of Service violations, YouTube has been precise in their language by offering an option to "File a legal complaint" rather than just "Report Content."

Accessibility


If you're logged out, you can still file a legal complaint (you can’t however flag normal content).


Web Form Design


Once you click the "File a legal complaint" option, you’re directed to a web form that is an extended version of a DSA complaint form. It has additional fields for other global regimes but also encompasses all required DSA elements.


YouTube's DSA Compliant Reporting Flow
YouTube's DSA Compliant Reporting Flow

Handing Team


Upon submission of a complaint, you’ll see it is YouTube’s legal operations team that handles the content, not the typical community guidelines enforcing Trust and Safety group. This is because it is a more specialized process to assess the content against local laws than internally set community guidelines.


Response from YouTube's Legal Support Team
Response from YouTube's Legal Support Team

Pinterest’s Approach to DSA “Notice and Action” Requirements


Custom Labeling


Instead of using jargon like 'Digital Services Act', Pinterest opts for 'EU local law violation'.

Simplicity


Similar to YouTube, Pinterest redirects you to a specific web form with pre-populated reasons for the complaint.


Log-out functionality


Users who are logged out still have the option to "Report pin for EU local law violation."



Pinterest's DSA Compliant Reporting Flow
Pinterest's DSA Compliant Reporting Flow

The Role of Notice and Action


The "notice-and-action" provisions in the Digital Services Act (DSA) set guidelines for how online platforms must handle locally illegal content.


Once a platform receives an illegal content complaint, it's required to quickly assess and take appropriate action, which can range from geo-restricting access to full removal of the content.


Platforms must have clear mechanisms for submitting complaints and appeals, making "notice-and-action" a focal point in discussions about the DSA's effectiveness and impact.



Key Takeaways for Smaller Platforms


Dedicated Flows: Create a distinct flow for locally illegal content complaints. Do not mix these with other types of user reports.

Clarity in Language: Make sure to use language that the average user can understand while still being legally compliant.

Accessibility: Enable features where users, logged in or not, can still make a legal complaint.

Web Form Design: Create web forms that are compliant with new regulations (report multiple content pieces, specify reporter email, specific local law, etc) but also user-friendly (localized, simple language).


Expert handling: These legal reports are fundamentally different from reports where the platform controls the bar (Community Guidelines or T&S complaints). You must assess them against local law to a reasonable bar.


Appeals & Statement of Reasons (for flaggers and uploaders): Both those reporting content and the content owners are permitted to submit appeals directly to the company.


In this scenario, a human reviewer must be involved for each report, as opposed to the practice of automatically closing appeals employed by some companies.


This approach is taken to strike a balance between the freedoms entitled to EU citizens and the potential legal thresholds defined by the DSA.


Notification of how content was detected: Companies are required to communicate the detection method employed for the content to content owners.


Utilizing automated techniques, such as classifiers or other machine learning models, is a common industry standard for identifying illegal or harmful content.


The DSA mandates transparency regarding the utilization of these automated methods. Additionally, companies must specify whether the content in question was reported by a user.


Early planning: Start implementing systems and processes for DSA compliance well in advance. Check out the full DSA Readiness Checklist.


Having The Right Tools: Make sure you have the right mechanisms in place to comply with the items in new online regulations - some are simpler than others. TrustLab offers an end-to-end cost-effective compliance solution that fully covers the DSA - learn more here.


Staying Informed: Make sure you know what’s coming and when in terms of online regulations.


Final thoughts


The VLOPs are setting the precedent of how to deal with new types of complaints brought by recent regulations like the DSA.


Smaller platforms must take these lessons and implement them, even on a smaller scale, to be both legally compliant and user-friendly.


Beyond being compliant, finding solutions that deal with the issues that both the DSA and other online regulations (such as the Online Safety Bill and the AU Online Safety Act) are trying to fight is an essential part of being a player in the online ecosystem.


As we move toward making the internet a safer place, these regulations should serve as motivation for online platforms to fight online misinformation and keep their users safe.


For further updates on the DSA, other regulations, and their implementation, stay tuned. We will continue to monitor developments closely and share insights!


Recommended Reading:


What is the Digital Services Act (DSA) and How Does It Impact Me?


The Differences Between the Online Safety Bill & the Digital Services Act


The UK Online Safety Bill is here: What it Means & How to Prepare


At TrustLab we offer an effortless, end-to-end compliance solution at a fraction of the costs. Get the peace of mind you need, without all the extra work - learn more.

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