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Platforms and the Law


Course Information

Over the past two and a half decades, online platforms have come to dominate the digital economy. However, the unstoppable rise of Google, Facebook, Amazon, and others has been accompanied by increasing criticism: The big social media platforms have been held responsible for the massive proliferation of mis- and disinformation that is suspected to lead to growing societal discontent, democratic decay, and even to threaten lives during public health crises. The platforms’ insatiable hunger for their users’ personal data for the signifying instruments of the platform economy such as targeted advertising or social scoring, undermining user autonomy and imperiling fundamental societal values. The dominance of the biggest platforms has become so overwhelming as to stifle the free digital market, to the detriment to both competitors and the public.

In response to these perceived harms caused by online platforms, legislators in Europe have increasingly resorted to incisive and comprehensive legal instruments that complement, guide, frame, and control simultaneous approaches to self-regulation. After contextualizing the rise of online platforms from a critical-historical perspective that takes special account of the various ways to conceptualize the position of the intermediary in the digital economy and its liability and accountability, the course surveys the most pressing socio-political issues of the contemporary platform ecosystem: mis- and disinformation including computational propaganda by both public authorities and non-state actors; hate speech, extremism, and the facilitation of mass atrocities; and user manipulation through instruments such as micro-targeting, dark patterns, and various forms of corporate surveillance; market power, gatekeepers, and unfair competition. The remainder of the course is devoted to regulatory responses. First, we will take a close look at attempts by the companies themselves to handle the societal risks and harms emerging from the use of their platforms by means of content moderation, external oversight mechanisms, and other measures, with a critical focus on the increasing utilization of the language of international human rights law by these private actors. This is followed by interrogating the growing array of legal instruments on the level of the EU. A particular emphasis will be on the new Digital Services Act and its risk-mitigation mechanism for Very Large Online Platforms (VLOPs). Finally, we will examine the EU’s approach to tackle the power of online platforms through law with its Digital Markets Act.

The following topics are likely to be covered (but subject to change)

  • The global and European evolution of intermediary liability

  • Instruments and architectures of user manipulation

  • Mis- and disinformation online

  • Hate speech, incitement to mass atrocities

  • Platforms as repositories of digital evidence

  • Content moderation and self-regulation models of platforms

  • Market power and gatekeeper functions in the platform economy

  • Digital Copyright and the Copyright Directive

  • Regulatory responses in the EU, with a focus on the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act

Course Objectives

This course requires students to develop skills in understanding policy and policy objectives as well as further advancing their own skills relating to critical analysis of case law, Directives, Regulations, as well as the importance of regulatory pluralistic approaches to solving some of the more complex problems facing digital platforms. The assignments and interactive class discussions aim at practicing in-depth engagement with current, cutting-edge scholarship and academic literature from different relevant and interconnected disciplines. The class is built around active student participation and characterized and taught using interdisciplinary, multi-regulatory, extra-legal, and doctrinal approaches..


  • Advanced legal, policy, and regulatory research skills

  • To explain clear and substantiated research results

  • To engage with interdisciplinary scholarship

  • To actively participate in a discussion following class lectures

  • To be socio-communicative in collaborative situations

  • To adhere to agreed schedules and priorities

Course Requirement

Master Degree


The timetable of this course will be available for students in Brightspace


More information on this course is offered in MyTimetable


Attendance is mandatory as specified in Article 5.1 of the Course and Examination Regulations of the Master of Laws Advanced Studies Programmes.

Examination Method

  • Written paper that responds to and engages with a piece of current cutting-edge scholarship that was part of the course materials (50%)

  • Written exam (50%)

Contact information

Programme Coordinator
Ms Patricia Garcia Fernandez
Telephone number: 0031- 71 527 4228

Should there be any future extenuating circumstances which may impinge our teaching and assessment, these could necessitate modification of the course descriptions after 1 September. This will only happen in the event of strict necessity and the interests of the students will be taken into account. Should there be a need for any change during the course, this will be informed to all students on a timely basis. Modifications after 1 September 2023 may only be done with the approval and consent of the Faculty Board and Programme Director.