Social networks weaken democracies, deplores Barack Obama

Social networks weaken democracies, deplores Barack Obama

He knows he wouldn’t have been elected if it weren’t for social media, but he called on Thursday to regulate it: Former US President Barack Obama gave a speech on Thursday where he accused the big platforms of having vastly amplified ” the worst instincts of humanity”.

“One of the major causes of the weakening of democracies is the profound change in the way we communicate and inform ourselves,” he told students from Stanford, the university in the heart of Silicon Valley, in California.

The Democratic leader admitted that he “may not have been elected” without sites like MySpace or Facebook, and spoke of the beneficial work of awareness-raising and mobilization carried out by activists around the world, via the networks .

But above all, he detailed the flip side of the success of Facebook or YouTube, whose business model – large-scale targeted advertising – is based on the attention economy. “Unfortunately, it is inflammatory, polarizing content that grabs attention and encourages engagement” from users, he noted.

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The former head of state (2009-2017) also dwelt on the phenomenon of disinformation, and blamed himself for not having sufficiently realized “how receptive we had become to lies and conspiracy theories “before the election of Donald Trump, who succeeded him.

“Putin didn’t do this. He didn’t need to. We did this to ourselves,” he added, referring to the voter manipulation campaigns orchestrated from Russia.

“We just saw a sitting president deny clear election results and help incite a violent insurgency against the nation’s capital,” he said, referring to Donald Trump, who did not acknowledge victory. of Joe Biden at the end of 2020, and encouraged his supporters before the assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, which left several dead.

“This must be our alarm bell to react”.

Barack Obama therefore called for a reform of the laws that govern social networks, so that they are more accountable and more transparent, explaining that the problem at the heart of misinformation was less “what people publish” than “the content that these platforms promote”.

The proof according to him that they are not “neutral” and that the algorithms should be subject to security checks by a regulatory authority, in the same way as cars, food and other consumer products.

He then detailed a series of values ​​that he believes should guide content moderation, such as strengthening democracy and respecting differences.

“The tools don’t control us. We can control them,” he concluded.

Brussels tightens the legislation

EU member states, the Commission and Parliament finalized new legislation on Saturday that will better combat abuses of the internet such as hate speech, disinformation campaigns or the sale of counterfeit products. After several months of negotiations, an “agreement” has been reached between the European institutions on the Digital Services Act (“DSA”) which will require major platforms, such as Facebook (Meta) or Amazon, to better eradicate illegal and dangerous content online, announced on Twitter the European Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton, initiator of the project with his colleague at Competition Margrethe Vestager.

“This agreement is historic”, immediately welcomed the President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, “our new rules will protect users online, ensure freedom of expression and opportunities for businesses”.

“The DSA is a world first in terms of digital regulation,” said the Council of the EU, which represents the 27 member states, in a press release. The text “enshrines the principle that what is illegal offline must also be illegal online. It aims to protect the digital space against the dissemination of illegal content and to guarantee the protection of the fundamental rights of users”.

The digital services regulation is one of the two parts of a major plan presented in December 2020 by the European executive.

The first part, the Digital Markets Act (DMA), which tackles anti-competitive practices, was concluded at the end of March.

dark side

The DSA updates the e-commerce directive, born 20 years ago when the giant platforms were still embryonic.

Objective: to put an end to the excesses of social networks which have often hit the headlines: assassination of history professor Samuel Paty in France after a hate campaign in October 2020, assault of demonstrators on the Capitol in the United States in January 2021, in part planned thanks to Facebook and Twitter…

The dark side of the Internet also concerns sales platforms overrun with counterfeit or defective products, which can be dangerous, such as children’s toys that do not meet safety standards.

The new regulation establishes the obligation to “promptly” remove any illegal content (according to national and European laws) as soon as a platform becomes aware of it. It forces social networks to suspend users who “frequently” violate the law.

The DSA will oblige online sales sites to verify the identity of their suppliers before offering their products.

At the heart of the project, new obligations imposed on “very large platforms”, those with “more than 45 million active users” in the EU, i.e. around twenty companies, the list of which remains to be determined but which will include Gafam (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft), as well as Twitter, and probably TikTok, Zalando or Booking.

These players must themselves assess the risks associated with the use of their services and put in place the appropriate means to remove problematic content. They will be imposed increased transparency on their data and recommendation algorithms.

They will be audited once a year by independent bodies and placed under the supervision of the European Commission, which may impose fines of up to 6% of their annual sales in the event of repeated infringements.

“In the context of the Russian aggression in Ukraine and the particular consequences on the manipulation of online information, a new article has been introduced in order to set up a reaction mechanism in the event of a crisis”, the Council said. European. This mechanism, activated by decision of the Commission, will make it possible to take “proportionate and effective” measures against very large platforms which would contribute to spreading false information.