China's cat-and mouse game with internet users is no model for the EU

In the EU Observer, Daniela Stockmann says content-blocking only tackles symptoms, not the real problems.

In an opinion piece in the EU Observer published on 20 May 2020, Hertie School Professor of Digital Governance Daniela Stockmann writes that the EU needs to be careful that it doesn't end up driving egregious content underground through surveillance policies. Her opinion piece came several days after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton that the EU should be careful about following content-blocking policies similar to those China, saying their internet regulation model disregards human rights. The EU is currently conducting public consulations on its planned Digital Services Act. 

Stockmann writes:

China's content clampdowns have driven internet users to underground digital spaces that are much harder to keep tabs on. The EU rightly wants to stop online hate speech and disinformation and knows that any regulation should be a balancing act between security and freedom of speech.

Sadly, the EU is currently leaning toward prioritising safety over liberty, a fraught approach akin to one Beijing has been pursuing for two decades. China proves that sacrificing freedom for security is no solution. Governments have tried to strengthen content moderation through rules that hold platforms liable.  In doing so, they mask the symptoms but do not cure the underlying causes of pernicious and misleading content. In China, citizens have over the years found loopholes to circumvent measures for blocking content.

Mainstream platform users who disagree with norms enforced by content moderators turn to less mainstream spaces to communicate and organise. Things may seem safer on the surface, but in reality, threats become harder to assess – and even amplified. 

Read the full opinion piece in the EU Observer

Find out more about the Digital Services Act and work being done at the Hertie School on digitalisation at the Centre for Digital Governance.  

More about Daniela Stockmann