The EU Digital Services Act takes effect today, which means significant changes to the functionality of social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat, and YouTube, as well as a string of online stores and search engines.
Although the act first passed way back in November 2022, the group of large companies that have to comply with it now were given several months to make the required changes to their platforms.
What Is the EU Digital Services Act?
The Digital Services Act is a wide-reaching new law designed to hold digital platforms – including social media networks, search engines, and online stores like Amazon – accountable for a wide range of activity.
Included in the act are rules designed to prompt a crackdown on illegal content on social media platforms and illegal products being sold in online stores.
Disinformation – specifically, Russian propaganda – is also in the EU's crosshairs.
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There are new protections for children in the context of targeted advertising and the systems used to recommend content on social media. Digital platforms within the EU’s 27 member states will no longer be able to target ads based on data relating to their race or gender, either.
Manipulative practices used by shopping websites to coax consumers into buying products – such as hiding delivery information and costs – are also being clamped down on.
What Platforms Are Affected?
Right now, a total of 17 platforms and two search engines are affected by the act, all of which have at least 45 million active users. Along with Google and Bing (the two search engines), the platforms affected are:
Alibaba AliExpress, Amazon Store, Apple AppStore, Booking.com, Facebook, Google Play, Google Maps, Google Shopping, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, Wikipedia, YouTube and Zalando.
However, from February 2024, it will apply to all digital platforms, regardless of their size. Twitter is also cooperating with the EU Commission and agreed in June to comply with its laws pertaining to the spread of disinformation.
What Changes Will This Cause to Social Media Platforms?
For users of social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook in the EU, a lot is going to change. Here are the biggest differences they’ll experience on the platforms.
Firstly, on a number of social media platforms, users will be able to switch off the automated recommendations that dictate what they see on their feeds on these apps.
As well as this, Instagram users will be able to choose to only view content from accounts they follow by opting out of the ranking systems that show users new content.
On TikTok, on the other hand, the “For You” page for each user will be populated with a string of viral videos from across the globe, and will no longer be determined by what a user has just been watching. Snapchat will also allow users to opt out of being shown content that is personalized using their data.
Of course, outside of the EU's member states, the user experience on these platforms will remain much the same. But legislation of this kind can – and often does – prompt other countries to act too.
In a country like the US, the political will to curtail the power of big tech companies and manage the effects of their platforms is present on both sides of the political aisle.
However, with the US lacking a federal counterpart to the EU's GDPR, it might be some while before we see anything like these sweeping changes occur on this side of the Atlantic.