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Europe’s Digital Fix Is Already Broken

After unveiling two new digital regulations to much fanfare last year, the European Commission already needs to go back to the drawing board. Big Tech's latest scandals have made clear that the only workable governance model for the digital economy is one that treats the leading platforms as utilities.

WASHINGTON, DC – Since the start of this year, the European Union’s cautious approach to digital-platform reform has been overtaken by tech-industry scandals. Between temporarily banning all news from appearing on its platform in Australia and suspending the president of the United States with the flick of a switch, Facebook has offered a chilling display of its power. Moreover, along with Twitter and Google/YouTube, it has proven to be a dangerous fire hose of disinformation, playing no small part in the events leading up to the January 6 storming of the US Capitol.

Since the birth of the digital-media platforms 15 years ago, the world’s democracies have been subjected to a grand experiment. What happens to news and information infrastructure when it is increasingly dependent on Silicon Valley companies that offer massive global audiences, algorithmic (non-human) curation of information (or disinformation), and the ability to spread such information with unprecedented ease? The answer has become increasingly clear.

Facebook, Google, and Twitter bill themselves as tech companies, but they are in fact the world’s largest-ever media giants. In that capacity, they have enabled disinformation campaigns aimed at undermining elections in more than 70 countries, even helping to elect a quasi-dictator in the Philippines. They have been used to livestream child abuse, pornography, and mass murder, such as of Muslims in New Zealand. And their recommendation algorithms reliably steer billions of users to fake news and propaganda. How can we ever come together to tackle climate change when a majority of YouTube videos on the topic deny climate science?

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