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« An end to shadow banning? Content moderation transparency rights in the EU’s Digital Services Act

An end to shadow banning? Content moderation transparency rights in the EU’s Digital Services Act

May 12, 2022, 9:00 AM - 9:45 AM


The Heldrich Hotel & Conference Center

10 Livingston Avenue

New Brunswick, NJ 08901


Click here for map.

Paddy Leerssen, University of Amsterdam

This paper takes a legal perspective on the phenomenon of ‘shadow banning’, i.e. undisclosed content moderation actions. It focuses on the transparency rights introduced in the EU’s new Digital Services Act (DSA), which lays out a procedural due process framework for all content moderation actions. This paper shows how this due process framework can be interpreted as prohibiting shadow bans, at least on paper. Yet it highlights a crucial interpretational difficulty held in common by the DSA’s due process framework and by the shadow banning imaginary it responds to: how to define moderation actions, particularly as regards ‘demotion’ or ‘downranking’. What users experience as a targeted and top-down ‘demotion’ sanction can also be the result of more systemic and audience-driven volatilities in content ranking. To distinguish these, the DSA’s project of individual due process will require a detailed engagement with the technical architectures of different ranking systems, in furtherance of an essentially normative delineation between a normalized default and a problematized exception; between routine curation and exceptional moderation. If at all enforceable, therefore, the DSA’s individual due process framework will necessarily disregard the more structural dimensions of ranking governance—how platforms exercise power not just by ruling on the downranking exception but by writing and continually revising the rules of the ranking game.



            Paddy Leerssen is a PhD Candidate at the institute for Information Law (IViR) University of Amsterdam. His research focuses on the regulation of transparency in social media platforms under EU law.