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EU Online Censorship Framework Names Largest Platforms

Neil Campbell
Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.
Published: April 26, 2023
The EU has released the first list of 19 of the largest online platforms to be subject to the Digital Services Act censorship regimen.
A file photo of EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton in Brussels on March 16, 2023. 19 of the Internet’s largest platforms, composed of many marketplaces and search engines, have been named as targets of a new online censorship regimen coming into effect. (Image: KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images)

The first batch of companies to be subjected to a new European Union online censorship framework reads like something of a who’s who of the Big Tech online platform keyring.

19 platforms were named to be subject to the Digital Services Act, according to an April 25 wire release by Reuters.

Notably, a number of the services targeted are not social media or streaming and news platforms, but instead are marketplaces, search engines, and app stores:

  • Alphabet’s Google Maps
  • Google Play
  • Google Search
  • Google Shopping
  • Amazon’s Marketplace
  • Apple’s App Store
  • Zalando
  • AliExpress

But many of the usual social media suspects are also named, including:

  • YouTube
  • Meta’s Facebook and Instagram
  • Microsoft’s Linkedin and Bing
  • Pinterest
  • Snapchat
  • TikTok
  • Twitter
  • Wikipedia

EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton told Reuters, “We consider these 19 online platforms and search engines have become systematically relevant and have special responsibilities to make the internet safer.”

Website PYMNTS, which focuses on the payment processing industry, explained the sites have been chosen based on the number of users they report, “The law [DSA] requires online platforms and search engines to publish their monthly active users to show whether they meet the threshold — 45 million users — at which they are considered ‘very large online platforms’ (VLOPs).”

An iron hawk

Breton’s rhetoric on the implementation of the DSA has been perpetually hawkish.

In Aprif 2022 as Elon Musk made waves with an offer to purchase Twitter that was ultimately accepted by the Board of Directors and finalized by the end of the year, Breton told Financial Times that he wanted to give Musk, a billionaire who calls himself a “free speech absolutist,” something of “a reality check.”

“We welcome everyone. We are open but on our conditions. At least we know what to tell him: ‘Elon, there are rules. You are welcome but these are our rules. It’s not your rules which will apply here,’” Breton stated.


By November, Breton had boasted to French media that the European Union government “will have control” over Twitter, and that if Musk wishes to operate in the EU then he “will have to open his algorithms” and “we will have control, we will have access.”

“He is in the process of reducing a certain number of moderators, but he will have to increase them in Europe,” Breton said at the time.


France24 quoted Breton as stating on the announcement of the 19 platforms that they will have to redesign their systems to “prevent algorithmic amplification of disinformation.”

The verbiage is notable and harkens to selective censorship. In February, Vera Jourova, EU VP of Values and Transparency said in a statement that “Russia is engaged also in a full-blown disinformation war and the platforms need to live up to their responsibilities” while specifically referencing Twitter, according to CNBC.

A January installment of the “Twitter Files” by Matt Tabibi, a journalist granted access to the previous leaderships’ communications and files by Musk, showed that in 2017 and 2018 when the Russia Collusion hoax claiming Donald Trump won the Presidency because of help from Vladimir Putin was running wild, Twitter launched an internal “Russia Task Force” to find evidence to satisfy a ranking Democrat Senator’s initiative.

However, the team was forced to concede that there were only 22 Russian accounts on all of Twitter that met the criteria of an organized campaign. The Task Force stated it found “no evidence of a coordinated approach, all of the accounts found seem to be lone-wolf type activity” and only two accounts spent more than $10,000 on advertising, one of which was state broadcaster Russia Today.

Central intervention

Failing to comply with the DSA results in a potential fine of six percent of annual sales revenue or an outright ban on operations.

Musk and Twitter delivered something of a preemptive strike, however, making the site’s algorithm public on March 31.

However, the damage appears to have been done. Some analysts noted that the posted algorithm contains keys in a “softIntervention” string that contain the phrase “GovernmentRequested,” appearing to indicate that central overseers have the ability to directly intervene.

Negatives and positives

Reuters states the companies are mandated under the legislation to “do risk management, conduct external and independent auditing, share data with authorities and researchers and adopt a code of conduct” to continue operating in the Union.

The DSA does have some positive aspects to it for consumers. Apple enthusiast website 9to5Mac explains on the changes to the App Store that currently, “The Today tab presents you with a series of recommended apps, with no way to know on what basis they were chosen.”

Following the DSA’s requirements, “If a developer paid for an ad, for example, then the App Store promo must be clearly labelled as an ad, and users must be able to see which company paid for it.”

The article adds, “Additionally, for personalized app recommendations, users must be able to see the basis for these (for example, that you’ve downloaded other photography apps), and to be free to opt out from the use of their personal data to generate recommendations.”

Spreading tendrils

The expansion of the censorship net is not limited to the EU. On April 22, Financial Times reported that the United Kingdom has put forward a draft bill that would place Big Tech companies and other large platforms under the auspices of the Competition and Markets Authority.

“The new regulator will target a small number of tech companies generating at least £25bn in global turnover, or £1bn in the UK, with tailored rules” on penalty of fines as high as 10 percent of global sales, FT reported.

The bill mandates a system somewhat analogous to the Chinese Communist Party’s Party Committee Secretary system be installed in targeted companies, which will be required “to nominate a senior individual to take responsibility for compliance with the new regime.”

A 2019 primer on the CCP’s Party Committee system by The Diplomat explained, “A Party Committee is formed by a group of senior CCP members who are given a leadership position inside the halls of public and private companies operating in China.”

“Within private enterprises, however, it implements Party’s policies and operates through the Trade Union and the Communist Youth League Organization,” the article explained.

In November 2022, Breton likewise stated in a thread on Twitter that the DSA will require the appointment of “Digital Services Coordinators” (DSC) who will “liaise with the Commission to make sure rules are applied everywhere, by everyone.”

International consulting firm Cullen International states that DSCs in countries such as Hungary, Ireland, and the Netherlands are national government regulating bodies rather than employees of the corporations targeted.

However, the text of the Act states that DSCs will have the power to enforce corporate direction directly by carrying out “on-site inspections of any premises that those providers or those persons use…in order to examine, seize, take or obtain copies of information relating to a suspected infringement in any form, irrespective of the storage medium.”

DSCs are also empowered to “ask any member of staff or representative…to give explanations in respect of any information relating to a suspected infringement and to record the answers.”

Empowered DSC members are also granted the ability to directly “accept the commitments,” “order the cessation of infringements,” and “impose fines…for failure to comply with this Regulation” against targeted platforms.

FT reported that the corporate veil will also be pierced under the UK’s legislation as Executives can also be personally fined if the company fails to comply with “information requests.”