The event commenced with a warm welcome by Roberto Viola, Director General of DG CONNECT, who emphasised the importance of collaborative efforts in ensuring a safe and accountable digital environment. Roberto highlighted the key objectives of the DSA and emphasised the need for constructive dialogue between all stakeholders.
The opening plenary panel, moderated by Lauren Mason, Digital Officer at the European Youth Forum, explored the critical issue of social media's impact on young people's mental health. The panel delved into evidence-based insights and the responsibilities of online platforms in safeguarding the well-being of their users.
Parallel sessions formed the backbone of the event, providing attendees with the opportunity to delve into specific aspects related to the DSA. Fourteen engaging workshops covered a wide range of topics, reflecting the diverse challenges and opportunities associated with digital services. Experts and stakeholders from various fields came together to exchange knowledge and insights on gender-based violence, online marketplaces, mental well-being, privacy, data science, countering hate and extremism, intellectual property rights, protection of minors, global implications of the DSA, data access for researchers, freedom of expression and media pluralism, dark patterns and advertising, disinformation, and risk assessments and algorithms.
Keeping children safe online
One of the parallel sessions was dedicated to discussion on protecting minors online, with a panel moderated by June Lowery-Kingston, Head of Unit "Accessibility, Multilingualism & Safer Internet", European Commission, and participation of two BIK Youth Ambassadors, Daria from Romania, and George from Malta, along with academics, representatives from industry and civil society. The main discussion point focused on the role of the Digital Services Act (DSA) in ensuring a secure online environment for young users. All stakeholders highlighted the need for clear guidelines, effective implementation, and coordination to address the challenges associated with child protection in the digital age.
DSA objectives and legal framework
The DSA sets the aim of creating a safe online environment through the establishment of rules (Art.1). It recognises the importance of protecting children's mental and physical health, emphasising their best interests as a primary consideration, as articulated in Art. 24 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The DSA acknowledges the pervasive threat that poses risks to minors and seeks to address it comprehensively.
The DSA includes specific provisions to safeguard young users under eighteen. One key aspect is the requirement for terms and conditions to be simplified and easily understandable for young users. Furthermore, Art. 28 of the DSA mandates a high level of safety and security for minors, prohibiting targeted advertising towards children. The implementation of these regulations for Very Large Online Platforms (VLOPs) is set to commence next month.
To summarise the main content of the articles of the DSA that focuses specifically on the protection of children and young people online, the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) Team has worked on a user-friendly factsheet which collects all provisions in a few pages. To access the user-friendly factsheet, please visit the DSA page of the BIK portal.
Challenges and concerns
The BIK Youth Ambassadors shared some insights of their current experience online. Daria expressed frustration with spending excessive time online and being constantly asked to agree to unnecessary posts and conditions. George appreciated the DSA's differentiation between VLOPs and start-ups, recognising the devastating impact of data breaches and disinformation, especially in small communities where everyone knows each other. He pointed out the DSA for its significant step forward in challenging tech platforms and protecting citizens, highlighting the EU's fearlessness in standing up against big tech.
Elizabeth Gosme, Director COFACE Families Europe, an advocate for responsible digital parenting, highlighted the need for families to strike a balance between reducing screen time and recognising the positive aspects of the internet, such as the opportunity to form connections and find like-minded individuals. She emphasised that parents must possess digital skills and effective parenting strategies to bridge the digital divide and equip their children with problem-solving and communication skills.
Eva Lievens, Assistant Professor Faculty of Law & Criminology of Ghent University, emphasised the issue of personal data monetisation and the negative impact of excessive advertising on children's online experiences. The findings of the consultation exercises for formulating the new BIK+ strategy showed that young people feel harassed by commercial practices when they go online, emphasising the need for improved privacy protection and stricter regulations on advertising practices.
Sonia Livingstone, Professor Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics, revealed that a significant number of young people feel unsafe in the online environment, highlighting the emergence of new risks in the digital space. Fast and concrete guidance is considered a priority, particularly for smaller platforms. Guidance should be evidence-based and consider the perspectives of children, aiming to ensure that decisions made do not impede children's lives or restrict their freedom of speech.
A holistic approach to child protection online is necessary, encompassing both protective and empowering measures. It is important to strike a balance between safeguarding children and considering their positive rights. Emphasis should be placed on designing platforms and services that prioritise child safety without compromising other fundamental rights. Protection of children's personal data should be a key consideration, and risk assessment and transparency should be integrated into the implementation of the DSA.
A visual of the main discussion points was created by the graphic artist during the event.
The closing plenary session centred on the systemic political risks posed by social media platforms to democratic values and processes. Rita Wezenbeek, Director Platforms at DG CONNECT, moderated the session, which took stock of the lessons learned in recent years, celebrated achievements, and acknowledged the remaining challenges for policymakers. The event concluded with a forward-thinking exchange on how the Digital Services Act could foster a vibrant, egalitarian, and inclusive online democracy.
To learn more about the DSA Stakeholder Event, please visit the European Commission’s website, where you can also find the recordings from the plenary and parallel sessions of the event.