Lawmakers in Europe today called on the Biden administration to help regulate US social media companies, citing the danger of misinformation sparking real-world violence.
The call for cooperation came from Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, hours before Joe Biden was sworn in as the new US president. In a speech, she pointed to how pro-Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol on Jan. 6, as a poignant example of why social media needs to be regulated. “That is what happens when hate speech and fake news spread like wildfire through digital media. They become a danger to democracy,” von der Leyen said.
She warned that the same internet-inspired violence could happen in Europe. “There are people who subscribe to rampant conspiracy theories, which are often a confused mixture of completely abstruse fantasies,” she said, “And, of course, we too see this hate and contempt for our democracy spreading unfiltered through social media to millions of people.”
In response to the storming of the US Capitol, major US tech companies, including Facebook and Twitter, decided to ban or suspend former President Donald Trump’s social media presence over worries he’d instigate more violence. At the same time, they’ve been cracking down on the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy theory.
However, von der Leyen takes issue with private companies—instead of democratically elected governments— deciding what gets censored. “No matter how right it may have been for Twitter to switch off Donald Trump’s account five minutes after midnight, such serious interference with freedom of expression should be based on laws and not on company rules. It should be based on decisions of parliaments and politicians and not of Silicon Valley managers,” she said.
The European Commission’s solution is the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act, which were introduced last month. The effort focuses on developing rules that’ll require internet companies to remove illegal content and disclose how their content recommendation algorithms work.
“It is in this digital field that Europe has so much to offer the new government in Washington. The path we have taken in Europe can be an example for approaches at international level,” von der Leyen added.
To facilitate the cooperation, she suggested the US and Europe establish a joint trade and technology council as a first step. “Together we could create a digital economy rulebook that is valid worldwide: From data protection and privacy to the security of critical infrastructure,” she said.