Evidence please!

Wednesday, Apr 29, 2020

Good op-ed by Chloé Berthélémy and Diego Naranjo in EURACTIV on the role of technology in online content moderation. This passage points to a systematic problem for the digital policy making capacity of the EU:

This appalling lack of evidence for a new legislation follows a standard pattern in the Commission’s content moderation policies: whether in the fight against child abuse material or hate speech, the Commission has systematically failed, so far, to provide any statistics on how much of the content being deleted as a result of its legislation is actually illegal or on the impact of these legislative measures.

This is of course not limited to CSAM, terrorism or hate speech. Another case in point: The article 17 stakeholder dialogue organised by the Commission to ensure (among other things) that the implementation of Article 17 of the Copyright directive does not result in automated takedowns of non-infringing content, where the Commission has so far been unable to provide any empirical evidence on the prevalence of the problems being discussed, because it does not have access to such data.

This inability of the Commission to present empirical evidence pertinent to digital policy issues is deeply worrisome and means that most policy making happens based on hearsay and prevailing sentiments (and a healthy dose of selective disclosure by stakeholders affected by such regulation). If the Commission wants to establish itself as a credible regulator in this space then it will urgently need to create the ability to collect data from digital platforms by establishing disclosure and transparency requirements and it needs to stand up capacity for analysing such data.