FB Whistleblower Testimony Accelerates EU Regulatory Push

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s meetings with European Union officials have accelerated the lawmakers’ plans to tamp down Big Tech. Officials are calling for quick action to strengthen and enact measures of a 2020 bill that would impose strict obligations on social media companies. As currently drafted the bill would require technology platforms to monitor and mitigate risks from illegal content or suffer stiff fines. Likening Europe to “a digital Wild West,” EU digital commissioner Thierry Breton said, “Speed is everything” and EU members must pass the new tech legislation in the first half of 2022.

Haugen has met with British and German officials, pressing for new laws that would increase transparency and heighten regulatory oversight of social media companies and their handling of inflammatory and potentially harmful content. She now heads to Paris for meetings later in the week.

At each stop, Haugen argues the company has been irresponsible in addressing ways its algorithms promote polarizing and extremist content, putting profits ahead of improvement. Facebook, which is now owned by Meta Platforms, disagrees with Haugen’s allegations.

“Yes, we’re a business and we make profit, but the idea that we do so at the expense of people’s safety or well-being misunderstands where our own commercial interests lie,” Facebook vice president of content policy Monika Bickert wrote in a blog post Monday.

The documents Haugen made public have incentivized legislators in the U.S. as well as Europe to pursue new restrictions on Big Tech’s power. That may mean updating decades-old laws that protect social media companies from liability for users’ activities. In the U.S., such legislation has started to gain traction in Congress. The Wall Street Journal reports UK lawmakers are considering a new online safety bill that could impose fines of up to 10 percent of annual global revenue.

The EU bill, currently under debate in Parliament and among member-state governments, must settle on a common text. Haugen urged the Members of the European Parliament to set a “global gold standard” with the Digital Services Act.

“There’s a deep, deep need to make sure that platforms must disclose what safety systems they have, what languages those safety systems are in and a performance per language — and that’s the kind of thing where you can put in the DSA,” Haugen said.

According to TechCrunch, “such an approach would have benefits that scale beyond Europe.” Haugen emphasized the need for a “language neutral” solution, since Facebook’s safety budget skews heavily toward English-speaking markets.

Haugen warned against the EU delegating enforcement to 27 national agencies, advising instead that lawmakers “create a central EU bureaucracy to deal with enforcing the highly detailed, layered and dynamic rules she says are needed,” TechCrunch writes.

Why Facebook Is More Worried About Europe Than the U.S., Politico, 11/2/21

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