Typing this, voters are going to the polls in France to choose the direction they want their country to face. The choice is pretty clear, even if a lot of them don’t like either option that much. Either the country re-elects their personally unsympathetic Third-Way centerist avatar as President or the republic is besmirched by choosing an ally of Putin’s Russia to undermine its place in the world.
Before we take the outcome of that sort of a choice for granted, we should remember the Brexit referendum.
In the East of Europe, war continues its bloody, criminal horseride through Ukrainian cities. At the same time, there are the beginnings of whispers that Russia’s army has actually lost this war already. All that remains is to inflict enough carnage and destruction to make a claim of victory in withdrawal plausible. Whether that comes to pass, there’s no question that what happens next will not look like what has gone before in relations between Russia and the rest of Europe, let alone between Russia and its own neighbours.
The former superpower is now a client state of China, reliant on access to its markets for natural resources to replace all the commercial doors closed in its face elsewhere around the globe.
The EU and the Internet
Back in the legislative chambers of the EU, we’ve seen a new response this week to some of the destabilising of the public realm triggered by the growth of commercial social media as a dominent communications and information source.
The Digital Services Act is getting ready to join the GDPR as the EU law you hear about the most. It hasn’t reached the end of its journey onto the books, but even the text as it stands represents a complete failure of big tech to defend their positions and will challenge some of their main means of turning eyeballs into profit. Big Tech never took EU principles of data protection and privacy seriously. It represented them as thin justifications for protectionism. As a result, it underestimated the energy underpinning the push to bring in legislative provisions giving them voice. It also meant that it never found a lobbying argument which could persuade the majority of parliamentarians or governments. By assuming bad faith and arguing against the relevance of rights at all, the industry ensured that EU officials and elected representatives stopped listening to its positions.
Ireland and the Internet
This new EU law will also open up the prospect of additional regulation of the internet’s contents by government bodies. As we know, Ireland decided not to wait for the EU-wide framework, but to simply strike out on regulating internet content on its own. To do this it cast about for the nearest thing to hand that looked like a regulator and it changed its name. But turning the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland into the Media Commission (incorporating the Online Safety Commissioner) doesn’t actually give it any additional expertise and the terms of the Irish Bill weren’t even drafted to be compatible with the brand new Digital Services Act.
Despite the electoral pressures the government parties face to claim to be doing something, we may find that the final form of this ill-considered Bill is cut down to just implementing the sensible bit of EU law (the Audio-Visual Directive) that the rest of the house of dreams was built on.
Meanwhile the idea of an Irish-specific legal framework for regulating Europe’s internet content (including regulating private messages between citizens) may end up taking its example from another proud tradition of the technology industry- Vapourware.