Proposed EU Digital Services Act (DSA) “notice and (NO) action”: Lessons (not) learned from testing the content moderation systems of very large social media platforms (CEP Policy Brief)

Alexander Ritzmann

CEP Policy Brief
June 2021

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Key findings of independent monitoring reports
1) „notice and action“ systems seem to not work properly
Based on six independent monitoring reports, the overall average takedown rate of illegal
content by very large platforms (gatekeepers) based on user notices is 42%. This finding could
be considered a disprove of concept for voluntary content moderation, because if even
reported illegal content is mostly left online, the implications for legal but harmful content are
obviously very negative.

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Will The EU Digital Services Act (DSA) Make Social Media Safer For Their Users ? (Paper and Video)

Mai 2021: CEP Policy Paper: “EU Commission consultation – Digital Services Act package – ex ante regulatory instrument of very large online platforms acting as gatekeepers”

Authors: Alexander Ritzmann (CEP Senior Advisor), Dr. Hans-Jakob Schindler (CEP Senior Director) and Lucinda Creighton (CEP Senior Europe Advisor)

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Video (YouTube)

The current draft DSA is based on a set of narratives about the role, function and business models of so-called gatekeeper platforms that do not seem to adequately reflect their actual functionality and commercial purpose. This paper will therefore those systemic misunderstandings and provide an alternative narrative that might help to build the internet and intermediary services the EU is actually aiming for.

Violent Right-Wing Extremism And Terrorism – Towards a common international understanding and shared legal concepts – Insights from Germany (Video)

Alexander Ritzmann

Link to video

This virtual conference organized by CEP on behalf of the German Foreign Office aimed to explore this issue in greater depth. The event highlighted a range of instruments governments have found useful in countering the domestic threat posed by violent right-wing extremism and terrorism. It discussed how developing a common conceptual understanding of the terrorist nature of networks within these wider transnational movements could open up the possibility to use already developed multilateral legal, administrative and operational structures, as well as instruments and mechanisms to mitigate terrorist threats.

The conference was organized in the framework of Germany’s chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. Member States had the opportunity to exchange information on their already existing mechanisms and discuss which counterterrorism instruments may be already applicable to this threat and which may need further modification.

LONE (terrorist) ACTORS IN DIGITAL ENVIRONMENTS (RAN Spotlight magzine)

May 12, 2021

By Alexander Ritzmann

Weblink to RAN Spotlight magazine / VoxPol blog article

The Halle attacker – who killed two people, injured two and aimed at killing dozens more at a Synagogue on 9 October 2019 – was inspired and motivated by online manifestos. In addition, he streamed his attack online and posted his own manifesto online, too. His attack has been marked as a typical ‘lone actor’ attack.

‘Lone wolves’, ‘lone actors’, ‘solo terrorists’, ‘loners’, ‘lone attackers’ – all definitions suggest a single individual, finding his or her way into an extremist ideology without affiliating to a group or network and operating on their own. However, most of the so-called ‘lone actors’ who carry out attacks subscribed to certain narratives and unorganised collectives. These collectives are leaderless and without clear hierarchies, but their followers are connected and united by shared narratives, values and enemies. For example, during his trial, the Halle shooter said that he did not join any group since he thought they would all be under surveillance. But he made clear that he feels like a soldier fighting for the “white race”.

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„Extremistische und jugendgefährdende Inhalte online – Kann der EU Digital Services Act Nutzer:innen wirksam schützen?“ (Video)

Video: EU Digital Services Act: Einschätzungen, Vorschläge und Fragen | Alexander Ritzmann – CEP

Das Counter Extremism Project (CEP) und Das NETTZ luden zu einem digitalen Fachgespräch zum Thema „Extremistische und jugendgefährdende Inhalte online – Kann der EU Digital Services Act Nutzer:innen wirksam schützen?“ ein, das am 15. April 2021 stattfand.

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Digital Terrorist and ‘Lone Actors’ (RAN paper)

RAN Small Scale Meeting Digital Terrorist and ‘Lone Actors’, online event 24 February 2021

Alexander Ritzmann und Anneleis Jansen

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How to find and identify digital terrorist “lone actors” before they commit violent acts was the lead question of this expert meeting. A special focus was put on the role and functions of social media platforms and gaming platforms. The term “lone-actor terrorism” has over time developed into a controversial and confusing concept.

While individuals might act alone on an operational level, usually they are or feel as being a part of a specific group or movement. Particularly in the digital age, so-called “lone actors” usually are and feel neither lonely nor alone. Some “lone-actor” attackers did not join any group since they thought they would be under government surveillance, but they felt part of a collective united by shared values, actions and enemies.

The trial of the Halle attacker (2020) and the Christchurch commission report (2020) indicated that neither intelligence services nor law enforcement nor the tech industry knew where to look for these digital lone actors or how to identify them online. Also, there was little awareness of the basic functionality (and abuse) of platforms, websites and other online services used by the perpetrators beyond Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

Civil Society Empowerment Programme (CSEP) – Peer learning sessions and key findings

Alexander Ritzmann

Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN) / CONCLUSION PAPER (download)

RAN hosted two digital sessions that aimed at facilitating peer to peer learning amongst the 20 CSEP projects, which all received EU funding to conduct P/CVE alternative or counter narrative campaigns. During these sessions, the projects were asked to demonstrate to their peers what they had learned and how they overcame challenges relating to their campaign activities. Although the projects have a shared framework, there is significant degree of variation amongst them. Some focus on videos, others use online games or workshops or a combination of different tools and formats. The RAN facilitated this sharing of insights by creating a digital safe space which allowed for all participating projects to openly share good and less successful practices. This paper captures the most common challenges faced by the projects and their lessons learned to help other civil society organisations
benefit from the learnings of the CSEP projects when creating alternative or counter narrative campaigns.
Some of the key learnings were:
• Develop an evidence-based “theory of change” that serves as a formative road map for the project
activities. See your project as a “change journey”, stay flexible and adjust when needed.
• Involve representatives of your target audiences or work closely with partners who have an in-depth
understanding of them. Co-create, this will help you identify what is important to your target audiences, the
online platforms they use and the authorities/influencers they listen to.
• Consider using an external facilitator who helps building a shared understanding of the key elements of
your activities when working with a team with diverse professional backgrounds. Don´t automatically expect
everyone to see things the same way.
• Ensure the safety

Transnational Right-Wing Extremism: No Beer for Neo-Nazis

Alexander Ritzmann

Link to article (Translated version of article published in German in Die ZEIT)

Right-wing extremists are building international networks. The author advises the German government on how to deal with the resulting danger, suggesting possible counter-strategies.

In mid-January of this year, two leading German right-wing extremists speculated on Instagram and YouTube that a potential accident involving key members of the German energy supply would have catastrophic consequences for Germany. The summation was: „Goodbye, Federal Republic. Funny, isn’t it?“

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Transnationaler Rechtsextremismus: Kein Bier für Neonazis (ZEIT online)

Rechtsextreme vernetzen sich zunehmend international. Unser Gastautor berät die Bundesregierung, wie sie mit der daraus entstehenden Gefahr umgehen soll. Hier schlägt er mögliche Gegenstrategien vor. Ein Gastbeitrag von Alexander Ritzmann

https://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/2021-02/transnationaler-rechtsextremismus-eu-bewegung-gewalt-judenfeindlichkeit-fluechtlingspolitik-osteuropa-alexander-ritzmann

The Role of Hotbeds of Radicalisation (RAN paper)

Alexander Ritzmann and Rik Scheele

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RAN Small Scale Meeting The Role of Hotbeds of Radicalisation, online meeting, 25 November 2020

While violent extremism is a global phenomenon, extremists start their radicalisation process in their local context. Radicalisation to violent extremism, however, is not happening everywhere. Even between cities, neighbourhoods or communities that are comparable in regards to political, social or socioeconomic circumstances or grievances, there are often very different radicalisation-related developments. In other words, some neighbourhoods struggle with a significantly higher number of radicalised individuals than others, making them “hotbeds of radicalisation”. Why do some neighbourhoods turn into hotbeds while others, facing comparable challenges and factors, do not?

During the meeting, Islamist extremist and right-wing extremist hotbeds were analysed and discussed. While the topic is still under-researched, two key factors have been identified that seem to be particularly relevant when present at the same time: 1) charismatic “entrepreneurs of extremism”, and 2) indifference and/or incompetence by local actors (government/civil society) who miss out on the opportunity to intervene early on. Recommendations on the prevention or countering of hotbeds of radicalisation were discussed and collected.