Slovakia braces for regulation of online content

Various ministries claim jurisdiction over online regulation.

Stock image.Stock image. (Source: Unsplash)

Filip Kužma is a research analyst at the EPPP – European Public Policy Partnership.

The Slovak Informatization Ministry recently came up with a “blueprint” for the national regulation of illegal content & hoaxes online. However, comments from other public institutions show that the plan is far from perfect.

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When the pandemic hit the globe in the spring of 2020, the most cunning hoaxes coming from troll farms and headquarters of far-right parties quickly suppressed the initial wave of solidarity. Their goal was to sow seeds of division and undermine the public’s trust in science. They continued after Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February. Contradictory hoaxes often aim to engrave the notion in people’s minds that no one can be trusted. This polarisation is the lifeline for extremists with nothing else to offer but scapegoating.

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Social media has undoubtedly been one of the catalysators behind the deterioration of public debate quality and the democratic elements of society have failed to react to the impending threat of the unregulated online space. To mitigate the damage, the Slovak Informatization Ministry recently came up with a “blueprint” for the national regulation of illegal content & hoaxes online. The published preliminary information details the forthcoming act’s measures to address these phenomena. However, comments from other public institutions show that the plan is far from perfect.

With an EU-wide solution, the Digital Services Act (DSA), being on the brink of adoption, it seems impractical to come up with a national regulation which largely overlaps with the DSA proposal. We think it wiser to redirect human resources towards ensuring compliance with the forthcoming DSA Regulation instead of adopting a law that will soon have to be repealed for not being fully in line with the DSA.

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Furthermore, the Culture Ministry and Council For Broadcasting and Retransmission pointed that the plan’s measures will overlap with the draft Media Services Act which is currently in the 2nd reading in the Parliament – legal uncertainty is the last thing Slovakia needs.

Who has the right to be the arbitrator? The Informatization Ministry plans to make social media platforms the first line responsible for assessing whether the content posted by users falls into the category of “illegal content” (whether it has fulfilled the requisite elements of a criminal act in line with the Slovak Criminal Code). However, even the Center for the fight against hybrid threats at the Interior Ministry warns that only courts can determine if certain actions amount to a criminal act and decide on guilt and punishment.

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Furthermore, imposing this responsibility on social media platforms might also result in excessive preventive censoring of content out of fear of having to pay sanctions. Moreover, such competence could conflict with the ban on general monitoring and limited liability exemption that are key parts of the European digital regulation regime. We therefore believe that state institutions should take the lead in determining the legality of online content instead of private online platforms.

Verification badges might legitimise hoax-fluencers, so the Informatization Ministry plans to adopt a different strategy when dealing with “legal” hoaxes and disinformation. It wants to make users who prove their identity entitled to the so-called verification badges. The office of the Security Council at the Government Office concluded that this measure will probably not cause a significant decrease in disinformation online.

The problem with such verification is that many hoax-fluencers take pride in their identity. Offering them a clear pathway to the badge would do little to stop their showing off. On the other hand, such verification only increases their credibility, making this solution counterproductive.

It remains to be seen how the Informatization Ministry will deal with the criticism and opposition from other ministries, such as the Culture Ministry, which claims the agenda to be under its jurisdiction. Whatever the final result, let us hope it will be beneficial to both Slovak consumers and digital services offered in the country.

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