EU 2024 Elections

Big Tech’s Role in the 2024 European Union Elections


EU 2024 Elections

Big Tech’s Role in the 2024 European Union Elections

With the European Parliament elections happening June 6 – 9, our information space has never been under greater threat. Trust in information, healthy public debates and democracy are intertwined and nowhere more so than on social media platforms. The EU has made enormous strides forward in regulating Big Tech. Yet its enforcement is uncertain. The EU elections will be the Digital Services Act real baptism of fire.

Today’s dominant social media platforms have fallen short of their promise to connect and empower people. They have been driven by a pursuit of profits, prioritising engagement metrics over safety to make users spend more time reading, watching, scrolling and interacting. Misinformation, hate speech and other forms of divisive discourse have pervaded this public sphere through the use of “recommender systems” based on behavioural profiling, i.e. “observing and collecting passive data about how users behave and interact on the platform in order to infer their interests.”

Time is running out to protect our elections, so together with a group of civil society organisations including People vs. Big Tech, The London Story, jesuislá, Panoptykon, Ekō, EDRi, The Citizens, and The Real Facebook Oversight Board calling on the European Union’s Commissioner Thierry Breton to help us take action now.

“With the election three weeks away and investigations showing the system blinking red, with Kremlin disinformation and election hate speech proliferating across Europe, poll respondents clearly want platforms that are safe by default. The good news is that Commissioner Breton and EU leadership can still make it happen, and act to safeguard the election from algorithmic malfeasance.”

– Tanya O’Carroll, Founder of People v. Big Tech

Key demands include

  1. Turn off profiling-based recommender systems the week before and the week of the EU elections.
  2. Implement other appropriate “break-glass” measures to prevent algorithmic amplification of harmful borderline content, such as misinformation (according to independent third-party fact-checkers), or hateful content in the run up to elections. 

Poll Shows 61% of EU Citizens Want Social Media Recommender Systems Turned Off

“The poll reflects an EU citizenry deeply concerned about the corrosive effects of social media, and uncomfortable with the ways algorithms target them to keep their attention. Social media giants know how to make their platforms safer, but refuse. We’re calling on the EU to make the choice for them.” 

– Clara Maguire, Executive Director of The Citizens.

Ahead of next month’s critical EU Parliamentary elections, new polling from YouGov shows EU residents in France, Germany and Ireland overwhelmingly want social media companies to stop “using behavioural profiling by default,” and instead be based on the content that users themselves decide they want to see. The proposal was favoured by 61% and opposed by only 9%.

The nationally representative poll of 4182 adults which was commissioned by People v. Big Tech in partnership with The London Story and Real Facebook Oversight Board, also showed that by a 30-point margin, 54-24, EU residents believe social media platforms are not doing enough to prevent harmful content being shown to users. 55% are not comfortable with “behavioural profiling,” the current default on all major social media platforms.

When asked “to what extent, if at all, are you comfortable with behavioural profiling?,” 27% responded “not at all,” with 55% expressing significant discomfort. Ireland, which just debated nationally the merits of “safe by default,” showed the strongest support for turning off behavioural profiling by default – 77%. 

Under the Digital Services Act, which was passed in 2023 and went fully into effect in 2024, the EU has wide-ranging authority to address algorithmic risks on social media. The EU has already launched an investigation into potential foreign interference with elections on Meta’s platforms; advocates are calling on Commissioner Breton to go further – turning off behavioural profiling in recommender systems by default, and also introduce other “break the glass” measures to reduce the amplification of harmful content the week before and after the June 6th election. 

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 4182 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 30th April – 7th May 2024.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all country adults (aged 18+).

“An investigation is warranted and welcome, but we need action – now. The message we’re taking to parliament today – and the clear message EU residents sent in today’s poll, is fix our feed … before it’s too late.” 

– Ritumbra Manuvie, Executive Director of The London Story.

2024 Hey Ya! Mr. Thierry Playlist

Thierry Breton leads the European Commission Directorate responsible for digital policy, “DG Connect.” He has been considered the “architect” of the Digital Services Act, which has been a major piece of legislation that holds Big Tech platforms accountable for disinformation and online harms on their platforms.

In the past, Breton has announced major policy updates by creating and sharing Spotify playlists. The song titles in the playlists would reveal a secrete message. We want to use Breton’s creative idea to bring attention to our own policy demands.

Help us Share the Message

Feed Your Fix

On Thursday, May 16, we are doing a day of action outside the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium. Civil society campaigners from People vs. Big Tech, The London Story, #jesuislá, The Citizens, and the Real Facebook Oversight Board will be setting up a pop-up snack-bar “Feed FIX” right outside the building. “Servers” will hand out free Feed FIX ™ branded chocolate to Commission staff and passers by. But, not only will they receive their chocolate, they will also receive a receipt showing the “real price” listing social media harms and the poll results.

People vs Big Tech is an open network of civil society organisations and concerned citizens working together to challenge the power and abuses of Big Tech. Our first major priority is to ensure today’s tech titans and their legions of lobbyists are not allowed to be the dominant designers of tomorrow’s technology regulations. The network’s current major focus is to distil key legislative priorities in European regulation, highlight moments for targeted action, and amplify opportunities anywhere for people-powered mobilisation in the fight to increase public and political support for Big Tech accountability.

The London Story is an Indian diaspora-led civil society organisation. We advocate for justice, peace, and collective action against grave human rights violations.

Real Facebook Oversight Board, founded as an emergency response to the harms of Meta in the leadup to the 2020 Elections, is a diverse global coalition of the most dynamic, creative and critical voices today in civil rights, human rights, social media policy, disinformation research, extremism and the role of social media in society.

Ekō is a global consumer watchdog: an online community of ten million people who campaign to hold big corporations accountable. We use our power as consumers, workers and investors to hold the biggest companies in the world to account.

#jesuislá: The association that fights against hate, misinformation, and promotes civility online to make the Internet a better place.

The Panoptykon Foundation was established in 2009 as a grassroots initiative by a group of young people who refused to treat new technologies as a cure-all. We keep an eye on state and tech corporations. We fight for laws to protect people’s freedom and privacy. We empower people to live consciously in the digital world.

The EDRi network is a dynamic and resilient collective of NGOs, experts, advocates and academics working to defend and advance digital rights across the continent. For over two decades, it has served as the backbone of the digital rights movement in Europe.

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