For centuries, people’s lives pivoted around the local market. Now, it is online platforms that have taken a central role in our lives. Transport, accommodation, food, social life, shopping, information, democratic participation - it’s all just one click away.
When someone plays such a big role in our society, our democracy, and our economy, we can’t just sit by idly, watching these tech giants shape our lives and values.
A handful of online platforms have become the main source of information for billions of people. They exploit our data to continue expanding and conquer new markets. And although they are not even based in Europe, they have become gatekeepers for millions of European SMEs that want to do business in our EU single market.
With such a role comes responsibility. And as in any company, if there is one person – at the end of day – accountable, it’s the CEO. It is obvious in the “physical” world. It should be equally obvious in the digital world!
I recently exchanged views on this topic with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg during on online debate on governance in a post-Covid19 world. I also spoke yesterday with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on this matter and welcomed his expression when he publicly said: “There is someone ultimately accountable for our actions as a company, and that’s me.”
And while we will continue to nudge platforms into taking greater responsibility, we Europeans also need to be ready to set our own rules of the game. Our rules on digital services are twenty years old. Back then, Google was still a project in a garage and the first iPhone was years away. The world has changed and our rules must evolve, too.
The latest events in the US illustrate the need for us to find the right answers to difficult questions. What role do platforms play in avoiding misinformation during an election or health crisis? How do we avoid hate speech from spreading online? How do we protect our children against being bullied on social media? Should speaking time in democratic debate be limited online as we do offline? How do we achieve all this without choking off the freedom of expression of platform users? Are public interest notices the right tool to avoid censorship while advising users to check others sources?
These are some of the questions that the Commission is asking in a public consultation starting today and running until 8 September. I invite our citizens, journalists, NGOs, platforms, academics and anyone interested to participate.
We want to propose clear rules before the end of the year to define the responsibilities of platforms in protecting our citizens and values, without making them liable for all content. Certain fundamental rules must apply to everyone, from the smallest online shop to the major platforms. We are also thinking about specific rules for gatekeeper platforms.
Just as we did for the protection of personal data, Europe has the opportunity to set the global standard on platform regulation.
I have always said that it is up to the platforms to adapt to us, and not the other way around. What exactly does this mean in practice? How will we in Europe strike the right balance between preserving the freedom of expression and protecting our citizens against illegal content, hate speech or disinformation? How will we regulate our online marketplaces?
Well, that remains to be seen. Because in democracies, legislating takes time. It requires listening, thinking, finding common positions. And that is a good thing. It increases the chances of getting it right. That is how we do things in Europe.
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