Social networks weaken democracies, deplores Barack Obama

He knows he would not have been elected had it not been for social media, but on Thursday he called for its regulation: former US President Barack Obama gave a speech Thursday in which he accused the big platforms of inflating the “significantly worse” instincts of humanity.

“L’une des causes majeures de l’affaiblissement des démocrates tient au profond changement dans nos façons de communiquer et de nous informer”, at-il déclaré devant des étudiants de Stanford, l’université au cœur, in California .

The Democratic leader admitted he “may not have been elected” without sites like MySpace or Facebook, and spoke of the useful outreach and mobilization work that activists around the world are doing, via the networks.

But above all, he detailed the other side of the success of Facebook or YouTube, whose business model – large-scale targeted advertising – is based on the attention economy. He noted that “unfortunately, the content is intriguing and polarizing that attracts attention and encourages participation” from users.

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The former head of state (2009-2017) also addressed the phenomenon of disinformation, blaming himself for not being sufficiently aware of “how receptive to lies and conspiracy theories” before the election of his successor Donald Trump.

“Putin didn’t do it. He didn’t need to. We did it ourselves,” he added, referring to Russia’s campaign of voter manipulation.

He said, referring to Donald Trump, who did not recognize Joe Biden’s victory at the end of 2020 and encouraged his supporters before the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, which left many dead.

“This should be our alarm bell to respond.”

So Barack Obama called for the laws governing social media to be reformed so that they are more accountable and transparent, explaining that the problem at the heart of misinformation is less “what people post” than “content promoted by these platforms.”

The evidence is, according to him, that it is not “neutral” and that algorithms must be subject to security checks by a regulatory body, such as cars, food and other consumer products.

He then detailed a series of values ​​he believed should guide moderation in content, such as promoting democracy and respecting differences.

“Tools do not control us. We can control them,” he concluded.

Brussels tightens legislation

European Union member states, the Commission and Parliament finalized new legislation on Saturday that would better fight internet abuses such as hate speech, disinformation campaigns or the sale of counterfeit products. After several months of negotiations, an “agreement” has been reached between European institutions on a Digital Services Act (“DSA”) that will require major platforms, such as Facebook (Meta) or Amazon, to better crack down on illegal and dangerous online content, the European commissioner announced For indoor market Thierry Breton on Twitter, the initiator of the project with fellow competitor Marguerite Vestager.

“This agreement is historic,” she immediately welcomed Commission Chairperson Ursula von der Leyen, “Our new rules will protect online users, ensuring freedom of expression and business opportunities.”

“The DSA is the first of its kind in the world in terms of digital regulation,” the Council of the European Union, which represents the 27 member states, said in a press release. The text “enshrines the principle that what is illegal off the Internet must also be illegal online. It aims to protect the digital space from the dissemination of illegal content and to ensure that the fundamental rights of users are protected.”

Regulating digital services is one of two parts of a master plan presented by the European executive in December 2020.

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

The dark side

DSA updates the e-commerce directive, which was born 20 years ago when giant platforms were still in their infancy.

The goal: to put an end to the excesses of social networks that often made headlines: the assassination of history professor Samuel Baty in France after a hate campaign in October 2020, and the assault on protesters at the United States Capitol in January 2021, in part planned thanks to Facebook and Twitter.. .

The dark side of the Internet is also about selling platforms that are overrun with fake or defective products, which can be dangerous, such as children’s toys that do not meet safety standards.

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

DSA will require online selling sites to verify the identity of their suppliers before offering their products.

At the heart of the project are new obligations imposed on “very large platforms”, those with “more than 45 million active users” in the European Union, that is, about two dozen companies, whose list has not been determined but will include Gafam (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon and Microsoft) as well as Twitter and possibly TikTok, Zalando, or

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

It 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 its annual turnover in case of repeated violations.

“In the context of Russian aggression in Ukraine and the special consequences of the manipulation of information via the Internet, a new article has been submitted in order to create a reaction mechanism in the event of a crisis,” the council said. This mechanism, which is activated by a decision of the authority, will make it possible to take “proportionate and effective” measures against very large platforms that contribute to the dissemination of false information.