Facebook faces wrath of European Union lawmakers working on online content rules

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EU lawmakers want a Facebook whistleblower to come and testify in front of the bloc’s parliament about revelations of toxic practices on the platform while they work out the fine print about new rules regulating online content.

Legislature is working on an invitation for Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee who is the main source for a number of reports about the company published by the Wall Street Journal to present their findings to the European Parliament, where lawmakers are working on a flagship content moderation bill known as the Digital Services Act.

“The Facebook files – and the revelations that the whistleblower presented to us – underline the importance of not allowing the big tech companies to regulate themselves,” said Danish Social Democrat Christel Schaldemose, the main MEP behind the Digital Services Act. who spoke to the American whistleblower two weeks before her identity was revealed Sunday.

Internal Facebook documents leaked by Haugen showed that the social media giant was aware of a flurry of problems originating from its platforms and did very little about it. Documents exposed the existence of a program giving celebrities a free pass to post illegal and harmful content, efforts to optimize the algorithm to disseminate polarizing content, risks to young people as well as victims of human trafficking and political activists.

The tech company, with 2.9 billion users and valued at $ 1 trillion, is desperate to allay concerns. very promising on the one hand that it has “fundamentally changed” in order to anticipate and curb abuse on its platform, and accusing on the other hand the Wall Street Journal for inaccurate reporting and poor understanding of the internal document and Haugen von “misleading” Accusations.

Haugen is supposed to testify in the US Congress on Tuesday and later a month in the British Parliament. The European legislator is discussing a possible invitation and has yet to send one.

The upcoming EU content regulation

Meanwhile, the European Parliament in Brussels has been working on rules to force tech companies like Facebook to crack down on illegal content, address systemic issues on their platforms like disinformation, tweak their content and advertising algorithms, and open their data to regulators and researchers.

Now revelations about Facebook’s inaction to tackle harmful abuse of its platform have delivered more ammunition to European lawmakers looking to crack down on big tech like Facebook.

“I am extremely grateful for the courage of the whistleblower who finally gives us the knowledge we need for effective legislation,” said the Green representative on the law, Alexandra Geese, who spoke to Haugen last week. “So far, neither the public nor the legislature have been able to gain such a deep insight into the mechanisms that have become far too powerful.”

Their comments were taken up by their co-legislators, Liberal MP Dita Charanzová and Conservative MP Arba Kokalari, who praised the whistleblower’s work.

“It is good that these files are getting public for public scrutiny,” said Kokalari.

Strong ambitions

Geese said Facebook should publish all documents, but the first revelations would allow European lawmakers to be more ambitious on the rules they set.

“The documents are finally putting all the facts on the table so we can pass a stronger Digital Services Act,” she said.

Parliament anticipates drastic changes in the current functioning of huge social media platforms like Facebook.

Political parties in the European Parliament such as the Greens von Gänse, but also some social democrats and liberals are pushing for a ban on targeted advertising and the standard deactivation of algorithms for personalized content recommendations in newsfeeds.

“The entire business model of profiling is being challenged by these revelations,” said Geese.

The Digital Services Act would also allow regulators and researchers to access data and algorithms from large social media companies and better understand the ins and outs of businesses.

“We have to demand transparency from technology companies and give civil society, legislators and science insight into the building blocks of the algorithms. This is the only way we can have a public debate about the effects of these algorithms, ”said Schaldemose.

While the parliament wants to vote on its revision of the text by the end of the year, the EU institutions want to finalize the law on digital services by mid-2022.

This article is part of POLITICSPremium Tech Police Coverage: Pro Technology. Our expert journalism and suite of policy intelligence tools enable you to seamlessly seek, track and understand the developments and stakeholders that shape EU technology policy and make decisions that affect your industry. E-mail [email protected] with the code ‘TECH’ for a free trial.

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