Tuesday

19th Jan 2021

Opinion

Only EU can tame Zuckerberg's Facebook

  • The EU's plans must now leave Mark Zuckerberg in no doubt that it will regulate on its terms, not Facebook's (Photo: Cyril Attias)

When the EU speaks, Silicon Valley listens.

To those who see Europe as a large, but ineffective global power, this might sound counterintuitive. But it's true.

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It's no coincidence that Facebook's chief executive Mark Zuckerberg travelled to Brussels this week to make his case for social media regulation, following the footsteps of Alphabet's [Google's holding company] chief executive officer's back in January.

The tech titans know that the EU matters. Which is why it's so crucial that following the lobbying from Zuckerberg, on disinformation, the EU gets regulation right.

On this issue, Europe is now our last, best hope. Europe is the only large regulator with a global influence left that we can rely on - with a market too big for Facebook and to ignore and the desire to seriously defeat disinformation.

There is now a precious window of time where both EU institutions and most large member states could potentially support effective regulation. We have to seize this moment with truly effective legislation that protects both freedom of speech and democracy.

The EU needs to recognise urgently that this is the most crucial issue it faces.

All the goals EU Commission president Von der Leyen has set for herself and the commission, from working to win the fight against climate change to deepening the unity and security of the union, are threatened by this advanced form of information warfare that has been weaponised by some of the world's most malicious actors - and is becoming ever more sophisticated by the hour.

Zuckerberg's visit made one thing clear - both agree it's time to regulate. But the devil is in the detail. The EU's plans must now leave Zuckerberg in no doubt that it will regulate on its terms, not Facebook's. If they get this right, they can rescue the platform and our democracies.

EU fixes

It is time for Europe to put the onus on Facebook to correct the record by working with independent fact-checkers and show their corrections to everyone who has seen or interacted with verifiably false or misleading content. Facebook is already doing this on a very small scale, but it's far from enough to fight the virus of lies against our democracy.

But correcting the record won't be enough. Facebook and other platforms must move to detox their algorithms.

Freedom of speech does not mean freedom of reach. Platforms should stop recommending disinformation and hate speech - only then can we prevent people being pushed down dangerous radicalising rabbit holes, like anti-vax hoaxes and extremist content.

Lastly, the platforms needs to ban fake and inauthentic activity - including fake accounts, unlabelled bots, troll armies, like-farms that game algorithms, and other deceptive activities have been central to disinformation's success. They violate the terms of use of social media, and the enforcement of such terms should be legally required.

None of these solutions have anything to do with censorship.

Countries like Singapore have introduced crude laws that give the government new ways to choke dissent. But the war for facts won't be won with a ministry of truth. The solutions laid out above are not only more effective, but also protect our cherished freedoms of speech and thought.

This week, president von der Leyen and the rest of Europe's top leaders have the opportunity to gain ground in the war for truth. In doing so they can also make the world's largest social media platform a much healthier space - not just for Europe, but for all of humanity.

Silicon Valley will listen, but the EU needs to find its voice.

Author bio

Christoph Schott is campaign director at Avaaz, the global web-based activist platform.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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