On September 19, 1796, George Washington published his famous Farwell Address to the nation. Toward the end of his address, Washington writes “Europe has its own set of primary interests, which to us have none, or a very remote relation… Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns.” While Washington is primarily referring here to the danger of European military entanglements, his advice may just as well have applied to any type of foreign entanglements that is not in America’s best interest.
Americans should keep this in mind the next time they hear lawmakers discuss replicating the EU’s new content moderation law known as the Digital Services Act (DSA). Part of a slew of recent regulations targeting major tech companies, the DSA is designed to establish a single uniform “transparency and accountability framework” for online platforms across the EU. The goal is to end the supposed wild west of the internet by empowering the European Commission to launch investigations into tech companies that it believes have either exhibited problematic behavior or failed to adequately defend consumers from dangers online. Unfortunately, this framework creates more problems than it solves.
For starters, the DSA includes a long list of obligations that companies must abide by to stay in the good graces of the Commission. Most of these are overly vague and poorly defined. For instance, companies are expected to mitigate “systemic risks” such as “disinformation” while also safeguarding “freedom of expression.” Not only does this require a difficult balancing act, but it also requires companies to have consistent definitions of controversial subject matters, many of which do not exist.
Other obligations are equally precarious, such as bans on self-preferencing and targeted advertising. While well-intentioned, these measures are likely to have a disastrous impact on the customer experience and the ability of companies to tailor content to the subjective preferences of users.
Perhaps most concerning, the DSA will not just impact Europe. That’s because the DSA specifically targets large online platforms and search engines that have at least 45 million active monthly users. Most companies that meet such criteria are large tech companies with global operations. Therefore, any company that seeks to remain compliant with European law will have a strong incentive to streamline its operations.
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Nate Scherer is a policy analyst with the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit education and research organization. For more information about the Institute, visit us at www.TheAmericanConsumer.Org or follow us on Twitter (X) @ConsumerPal.