Big tech and social media platforms depend on a business model where profit is made from stoking up anger and fear. Our data is bought, harvested and manipulated. Despite the serious consequences, companies are subject to little scrutiny.
The truth matters. Equality matters. Freedom from discrimination, hatred and abuse matters. Democracy matters. And yet a handful of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful technology and social media companies are undermining these principles on an epic scale.
Social media companies and Big Tech have pervaded our lives to an astonishing degree. Facebook has 2.7 billion monthly active users, and over 85% of people using search engines go through Google. These platforms are the new public realms, where news is shared, friendships are formed and political movements rise and fall.
Yet, time and again, we have seen how Facebook, Google, Twitter and others have been used to share racist, misogynist and divisive content - even to incite violence. The way they are set up means that these platforms – that have the potential to reach millions – profit from the most attention-grabbing content, even when this leads to harm in the real world.
There is little regulation over Big Tech. Behaviours that are outlawed in the real world – from hate speech to discrimination to dark money funding politics – happen all the time online. The consequences for society are huge – election results are doubted, society is becoming more polarised and radicalisation is encouraged rampant.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
What’s needed are laws to hold the online platforms to account and to create a level playing field. This is totally within the power of our governments to do. The Big Tech companies are not too big to be made to change, and change does not rely on significant numbers of us having to stop using the digital products these companies provide.
There is awesome power in digital platforms, to connect across the world and speak out against injustice to a mass global audience. Indeed, they have created significant opportunities for our own campaigning. But they must be subject to greater scrutiny and accountability.
Right now, we are advocating for new legislation in the European Union to ban micro-targeting for political ads - the practice by which information about people’s voting habits, behaviour and personal characteristics is used to segment them into small groups for highly targeted advertising. Alongside this, we want greater transparency over the funding of all paid-for content online , so we know who is being targeted, with what information and who is paying for it.
That is only the start. Our long term goal is a world where social media companies and Big Tech are forced to operate to higher transparency standards, where hate and discrimination is not able to flourish unchecked, and where power cannot be bought through the proliferation of misleading information.