Event highlight

How can Europe regulate the internet to ensure benefits for society?

At the Centre for Digital Governance launch, panelists discuss European approaches to digitalisation.  

Who should monitor and control hate speech and misinformation on the internet – tech companies that provide platforms or governments through regulation? What is the European approach and how does it differ from that of the United States and China? Panelists at the launch of the Hertie School’s new Centre for Digital Governance tackled these questions, in a discussion including students held at the Berlin representation of the European Commission on 12 October.

The event followed a fireside chat on European digitalisation with European Commission Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager. Vestager pointed to the linkage of digitalisation and the EU’s green transition, which is the topic of the Centre’s second launch event on 29 October.

 “Margarethe Vestager in her talk outlined several ideas which are key to how we see our work at the Centre for Digital Governance: Digital transformation is not about making everything digital but about having a positive impact on society,” said Gerhard Hammerschmid, Centre Director and Professor of Public and Financial Management. “And we should be more conscious of the European governance model built upon a tradition of large and strong public sectors and values such as transparency, rule of law, fairness, pluralism and democracy.”

The Centre’s first launch event focused on the ongoing public debate over Europe’s planned Digital Services Act. The Act aims to create clear rules on the responsibilities of digital services providers in order to protect the rights of users and address risks.

Participants were Prabhat Agarwal, who currently works on European Commission policy and regulation of online platforms and electronic commerce, Daniela Stockmann, Professor of Digital Governance at the Hertie School and Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Center and fellow at the Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence. Lisa Witter, co-founder and executive chair of Apolitical, moderated the discussion, and Hertie School Deputy President Mark Hallerberg gave the words of welcome.

Europe’s Digital Services Act aims not only to decide what should or shouldn’t be online, but also to create procedures for making those decisions, noted Prabhat Agarwal. “Our approach is to make sure that safety infrastructure online is available,” he said. Daniela Stockmann called for approaches that tackle the root causes of harmful content, not just the symptoms. These are related to the tech companies’ advertising-focused business model, she said. Marietje Schaake noted that, while the US has taken a while to come to grips with the potential harms, “when it acts, it acts fast”, and the US is catching up now with Europe’s pioneering tech regulations like the GDPR, which aim to protect consumers.

“How Europe regulates the digital transformation but also how we in Europe digitalize public services has not only a big potential for Europe but also creates important opportunities for others to learn,“ said Gerhard Hammerschmid.  

A video of the discussion can be found here. Stay tuned for more information about the Centre for Digital Governance by joining their mailing list.

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Views expressed by the author/interviewee may not necessarily reflect the views and values of the Hertie School.