Europe’s draft rules requiring tech firms to do more to tackle illegal online content could become a global gold standard for a safer online world if they are beefed up, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen told EU lawmakers on Monday.
Haugen, a former Facebook employee who worked as a product manager on the company’s civic misinformation team, has accused the social media giant of repeatedly prioritising profit over clamping down on hate speech and misinformation.
Her testimony to a European Parliament committee comes after stops in London, Lisbon and Berlin, and at a time when EU lawmakers are debating whether to firm up the Digital Services Act (DSA) proposed by EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager.
“The Digital Services Act that is now before this Parliament has the potential to be a global gold standard,” Haugen said.
“It can inspire other countries, including my own, to pursue new rules that would safeguard our democracies but the law has to be strong and its enforcement firm. Otherwise, we will lose this once in a generation opportunity to align the future of technology and democracy,” she told EU lawmakers.
Protecting users rights and increasing accountability
Ms Haugen’s revelations on Facebook’s practices and how they impact users and their fundamental rights were troubling to MEPs. They expressed their concerns on, among other issues, the exploitation of children and teenagers’ mental health and on micro-targeting, including for political purposes. Questions focused on how to make the platforms more accountable and to ensure that risk assessment and risk mitigation provisions in the proposed Digital Services Act (DSA) are strong enough to avoid abuses, polarisation, and address risks to democracy.
Members also asked Ms Haugen for her views on regulating not only illegal but also harmful content, on content moderation tools and whether targeted advertising should be banned. They also wanted to know what safeguards she would like to see included in EU digital laws, wondering if the package currently on the table was sufficient. Enforcement tools to make sure the DSA has teeth, the transparency of algorithms, giving academic researchers, NGOs and investigative journalists access to platforms’ data, were other issues addressed at the hearing.