Platform regulation in Germany and the EU

Commercial social networks, search engines and video apps are important digital communication spaces for many millions of people in Germany and Europe, where they read and write news, exchange opinions, communicate with each other, find entertainment and see advertising. Until now, the decision on how these spaces are designed and what rules apply to them has rested almost exclusively with the digital platforms themselves. Large tech companies in particular have far-reaching power, for example, over how content is sorted and displayed around the world, how disinformation is dealt with, what transparency standards apply to online advertising and how easy it is for users to change privacy settings. 

Concerned about dominant market positions, the spread of inflammatory content and disinformation, and opaque data use, lawmakers around the world have been prompted to act. They are looking for ways to provide greater transparency, accountability, and public interest oversight of large tech corporations. Germany and the European Union (EU) are taking key roles in the political debate over rules for digital platforms. Germany, for example, has led the way with laws on content moderation (“Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz”, NetzDG for short) and media regulation (“Medienstaatsvertrag”, MStV for short). The EU has agreed on the Digital Services Act (DSA), significantly revamping platform rules in Europe. The European Democracy Action Plan (EDAP) also addresses platform regulation issues. Instead of focusing only on strict content deletion rules, there is now an opportunity to create EU-wide transparency and accountability obligations for digital platforms. 

The balance between government intervention, which can also go too far, and reliance on corporate self-regulation, which has been insufficient in the past, needs to be maintained. Many questions about platform regulation are still open in Germany and the EU. How can rules for different types of platforms be designed and enforced to support open and safe digital information spaces? What negative consequences of platform regulation should be considered? How can laws developed for the analog age be adapted or are entirely new approaches possible? 

In analyzing such issues within SNV and with international experts, we contribute to a better understanding of regulatory interventions and to identifying concrete options for action. A selection of SNV papers on platform regulation can be found here: 

Platform oversight: Here is what a strong Digital Services Coordinator should look like, October 2022

  • Provides overview of concrete cases for German platform oversight and the role of the DSC
  • Suggests interdisciplinary, project-based oversight teams with data analysis capabilities within the German administration
  • Available in German (approx. 40 pages) and in an edited English version (approx. 4 pages)

The DSA Draft: Ambitious Rules, Weak Enforcement Mechanisms, May 2021 

  • Explores weaknesses in proposed supervisory structure in DSA 
  • Proposes an EU oversight authority for social networks and search engines 
  • Is available in German and English (approx. 40 pages) 

Rules for Fair Digital Campaigning, June 2020 

  • Explains the special characteristics of online political advertising and what risks are associated with it 
  • Shows what rules exist for political advertising in the analog space and why this creates significant gaps for the digital space 
  • Presents options for action to improve transparency and accountability for platforms, political advertisers and oversight 
  • Is available in German and English (approx. 100 pages) 

Regulatory Reactions to Disinformation, October 2019 

  • Provides an overview of how Germany and Europe have attempted to deal with disinformation on digital platforms between 2016 and 2019 
  • Highlights strengths and weaknesses of previous (self-)regulation in five areas 
  • Is available in German and English (approx. 40 pages) 


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