The European Commission has now launched a DSA Transparency Database to which online platforms must submit a statement of reasons for each of their content moderation decisions without undue delay. Michael Madden, Technology Partner, examines the scope of the obligation which currently only applies to ‘very large online platforms’ but will apply to all other online platforms from 17 February 2024.
The European Commission’s DSA Transparency Database went live for very large online platforms on 26 September 2023. It will apply to all other online platforms from 17 February 2024. We discuss what online platforms need to do to comply with the obligation to submit information to the database.
Statement of reasons and the database
Article 17 of the Digital Services Act (DSA) requires providers of hosting services to send a statement of reasons (SORs) to all users affected by their content moderation decisions, clearly setting out the reasons behind those decisions. This obligation applies regardless of whether action is taken on the basis that content is illegal, or is merely contrary to a provider’s terms and conditions. The obligation also applies irrespective of whether action is taken as a result of a notice, or on the basis of own-initiative investigations.
A SOR must include at least the following information:
- Details on the consequences of the decision, its territorial scope and duration
- The facts and circumstances relied on in taking the decision
- Information on any use made of automated means in taking the decision
- A reference to the legal ground relied on and why in cases involving illegal content
- A reference to the contractual ground relied on and why in cases concerning content that is incompatible with terms and conditions
- Clear and user-friendly information on the possibilities for redress available
In accordance with Article 24(5) of the DSA, all online platforms must submit SORs to a database managed by the European Commission. Online platforms are a subset of hosting services which both store and disseminate information to the public, such as social media networks or online marketplaces. The database is publicly accessible and is an important tool to ensure transparency. It will enable scrutiny over the content moderation decisions of online platforms and will allow for the spread of illegal and harmful content online to be monitored. SORs must be submitted without undue delay, and in an automated manner to allow close to real-time updates of the database where technically possible. However, the SORs submitted must not contain personal data.
After some controversy over the information requirements in the database, the European Commission’s original launch date was delayed by a month. Following further consultation with stakeholders, it was finally launched on 26 September. The obligation to submit SORs to the database currently only applies to very large online platforms. These are platforms with at least 45 million active monthly users in the EU. It appears from the Commission’s dedicated website that, in the few days since the database went live, over 10 million SORs have already been submitted.
Next steps for online platforms
The obligation will apply to all other online platforms from 17 February 2024. Service providers should first assess whether their service is a hosting service under the DSA. See our article here where we discuss the different types of services caught by the DSA. If so, they should ensure that they comply with the various content moderation obligations under the DSA which apply to all hosting services. These obligations include the need to put in place a notice and action mechanism. It will then be crucial to effectively coordinate content moderation processes with the SOR information requirements under Article 17.
If the service is also an online platform, the provider must then turn to the technical requirements of engagement with the DSA Transparency Database. In that regard, the European Commission has published source code via GitHub for an API which can automatically submit standardised SORs to the database. Service providers can request platform-specific API access from the Commission. The Commission also sets out in its published API documentation how to begin submitting SORs to the database using the API. There may be further changes as the Commission discusses the database’s implementation and performance with very large online platforms and civil society groups.
Please contact a member of our Technology team if you have questions on the above or other DSA requirements.
The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.