Facebook Whistle-Blower’s Testimony Bolsters Calls for E.U. Regulation

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The congressional testimony from the Facebook whistle-blower, Frances Haugen, has intensified calls in Europe for new laws and regulations aimed at the social media company and other Silicon Valley giants, proposals considered by many to be among the most stringent and far-reaching in the world.

Alexandra Geese, a lawmaker in the European Parliament from Germany, said Ms. Haugen’s testimony, along with the global outage that took down Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp for billions of people this week, showed tougher regulation was needed.

“Any trust there could be in the company has been destroyed,” Ms. Geese said. “We now know we need to regulate because the company will not stop breaking things. And breaking things means breaking people and democracies.”

In her testimony, Ms. Haugen provided details about Facebook’s inner workings and negative affects on society, and she outlined several ideas that matched what European Union officials have debated the past year.

One of the proposals, the Digital Services Act, could be adopted as early as next year. It includes transparency requirements that Ms. Haugen called for during her testimony, requiring Facebook and other large tech platforms to disclose details to regulators and outside researchers about their services, algorithms and content moderation practices. The draft law also could force Facebook and other tech giants to conduct annual risk assessments in areas such as the spread of misinformation and hateful content.

Another E.U. proposal, called the Digital Markets Act, puts new competition regulation in place for the biggest tech platforms, including restricting their ability to use their dominance with one product to gain an edge on rivals in another product category.

Christel Schaldemose, a Danish member of the European Parliament who is playing a leading role in drafting the Digital Services Act, said she spoke with Ms. Haugen a couple of weeks ago.

“She asked me to insist on regulating the platforms,” Ms. Schaldemose said in an email. “And that is what I am working on. Especially transparency and accountability of the algorithms.”

The European Union has for years been the world’s leading tech industry regulator on issues including antitrust and data privacy, and its rules often serve as a model for other countries. Facebook and other Silicon Valley companies have poured money into lobbying to shape the new laws more to their liking.

The tech industry now spends more than any other sector lobbying the European Union, above the drug, fossil fuels, finance, and chemicals industries, according to Corporate Europe Observatory, a watchdog group.

In Washington, Ms. Haugen’s testimony resulted in bipartisan calls for tougher laws, but a timeline for passing the any new policies remains unclear. There are some signs that Europe and the United States are converging on ideas for regulating the biggest tech platforms.

Last week, after a digital policy meeting of European Union and Biden administration officials, the two sides put out a joint statement on “common issues of concern,” including need for more transparency about how algorithms work and amplify certain content over others.

Elian Peltier contributed reporting.