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Why EU Decided Tech Giants Can’t Police Social Media

Frances Haugen

Frances Haugen

Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg
Updated on

For all the promises from politicians to tackle online hate speech and misinformation, they continue to proliferate, polarizing societies and harming the vulnerable. Governments have been reluctant to act, fearing a broad crackdown will see them accused of censorship. After more than a year of internal wrangling, the European Union passed legislation that, according to Facebook whistle-blower Frances Haugen, could represent a “global gold standard” for regulating social media. Previous frustrated efforts to control the technology giants suggest the hardest work is still to come. 

We’ve come a long way since the early days when social media were supposed to connect the world and promote truth and mutual understanding. Today, conspiracy theories about U.S.-funded biolabs in Ukraine can leap from obscure QAnon forums all the way to Fox News. We’ve seen scandals over personal data breaches and the promotion of quack treatments for Covid-19. Events like the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol Hill riot show how misinformation can trigger violence. Allegations last year that content on Facebook encouraged eating disorders and helped to foment genocide in Myanmar increased the pressure for action.