European citizens, non-profit organisations and Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen have called on the European Union to set a global standard with a new EU internet law.
On Monday afternoon, Haugen, a former Lead Product Manager at Facebook who recently disclosed controversial information on the company, including how Instagram is seriously damaging teenagers’ mental health, warned MEPs in the European Parliament that a new law is needed to hold online platforms to account.
"These new rules need to be strong on transparency, oversight and enforcement, otherwise we will lose this once-in-a-generation opportunity to align the future of technology and democracy," she said.
Haugen's visit was scheduled as a parliamentary committee is discussing amendments to the Commission's proposal on the Digital Services Act (DSA). This will shape the digital economy at the EU level and aims to create more security and responsibility in the digital space.
If done right, the legislation could set the global standards in transparency, oversight and enforcement, Haugen said, stressing that the DSA should ensure companies behind digital platforms publicly disclose data and provide information on how they collect them.
Nudes, dickpicks, and online violence
During Haugen's hearing, a protest took place in front of the European Parliament to pressure EU lawmakers into taking a stronger stance against digital violence faced by women and girls, including hate speech, the sending of unwanted pictures and online attacks.
The action was led by HateAid, a German non-profit organisation that recently published a report based on an EU-wide survey. It showed that violence on social media platforms is a massive problem across Europe, but that platforms like Facebook and Twitter are doing little to combat it.
The survey results indicate that one in two EU citizens is afraid to express an opinion on social media out of fear of becoming a victim of digital violence; 30% of all European women fear that their nudes are published online without their consent.
"Women and girls, in particular, are exposed to massive violence on online platforms. Instead of protecting their users, online platforms make a profit from hateful and divisive content. As a result, those affected are increasingly withdrawing from digital spaces," MEP Alexandra Geese said.
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Despite the prevalence of this issue, online platforms such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and others, are not doing enough to protect internet users, 80% of the survey's respondents believe.
HateAid, together with a European coalition of 17 organisations, is calling for urgent change and more effective measures, as it argued the current draft law barely takes victims of hate and violence into account.
"Now, it is up to the EU politicians not to leave people alone, to finally take responsibility and ensure our safety online," Anna-Lena von Hodenberg, executive director of HateAid, said. "The EU must not allow the security and democratic participation of its citizens to take a back seat to the profit maximisation of social media corporations."
Although the vote on the DSA amendments has not yet been scheduled, it would set a precedent, as the rules governing the provision of digital services in the EU have remained largely unchanged since 2000, despite digital technologies and business models continuing to evolve rapidly.