MEPs push for democratic grip on social media to defend freedom of expression

Věra Jourová: It is high time to reign in the unchecked power of the digital corporations

Photo: EP Věra Jourová.

During a debate with the Council and the Commission on Wednesday, EU lawmakers urge for democratic oversight of tech giants to defend freedom of expression. They raised critical voices against the huge power of social media platforms and their worrying impact on politics and freedom of speech.

Secretary of State for European Affairs Ana Paula Zacarias from the Portuguese Presidency underlined that it is expected online platforms to play their part in the common fight against disinformation, hate speech, incitement to violence and radicalisation, but it is up to the democratic institutions “our laws, our courts”, to set the rules of the game, to define what is illegal and what is not, what must be removed and what should not be.

EC Vice-President Věra Jourová accented that “it is high time to reign in the unchecked power of the digital corporations”. Whatever we do, we must uphold the principle of freedom of speech, she said adding that she does not want to create the ministry of or arbiter of truth. This is the main principle.

“We need tougher regulation, more enforceable obligations and to increase the responsibility of digital players. We have recently proposed the Digital Services Act, that will increase accountability of online platforms and clarify the rules for taking down illegal content, including hate speech and incitement to violence,” VP Jourová said.

Concerning various decisions taken by the platforms to censor content or accounts, many MEPs put their finger on the lack of clear rules governing such decisions and the lack of transparency of big tech practices.

They insisted the Commission to address the issue in the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act, and as part of the Democracy Action Plan.

The majority of the lawmakers put in the spotlight the need to provide legal certainty when removing content, and to ensure that such decisions lie with democratically accountable authorities, and not with private companies, in order to safeguard freedom of speech.

Among the topics they discussed were algorithm transparency, use of personal data and the restriction or ban of microtargeting and profiling practices to fundamentally alter the business models of tech giants.

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