Last week had the privilege of appearing before the International Grand Committee (representatives from 12 countries) alongside Maria Ressa, Shoshana Zuboff, Jim Balsille, Heidi Tworek, Jason Kint, Ben Scott and Roger McNamee. After years of working on this wicked set of problems, it was a major milestone to see the attention of smart and focused law makers zero in on the structural problems at the core of this issue. They agree on the problem, now it’s time to act.
Here is the video and text of my statement.
Co-Chairs Zimmer and
Collins, Committee Members;
Thank you for having me,
it is an honor to be here. I am particularly heartened because even three years
meeting like this would have seemed unnecessary by many in the
public, the media, the technology sector, and by governments themselves.
But we are now in a very
different public policy moment, about which I will make five observations.
(and most forms of co-regulation) have and will continue to prove insufficient
to this problem. Like in the lead up to the 2008 financial crisis, the
financial incentives are powerfully aligned against meaningful reform. These
are publicly traded, largely unregulated companies, whose shareholders and
directors expect growth by maximizing a revenue model that is itself part of
the problem. This growth may or may not be aligned with the public interest.
Second, the problem is
not one of bad actors but one of structure.Disinformation, hate speech, election interreference,
privacy breaches, mental health issues, and anti-competitive behavior must be
treated as the symptoms of the problem, not its cause. Public policy should therefore
focus on the design and the incentives of the platforms themselves.
It is the design of the
attention economy which incentivizes virality and engagement over reliable
information. It is the design of the financial model of surveillance capitalism
which incentivizes data accumulation and its use to influence our behavior. It
is the design of group messaging, which allows for harmful speech, even the
incitement of violence, to spread without scrutiny. It is the design for global
scale that has incentivized imperfect automated solutions to content filtering,
moderation and fact checking. And it is the design of our unregulated digital
economy that has allowed our public sphere to become monopolized.
governments determine that this structure is leading to negative social and
economic outcomes, then it is their responsibility to govern.
Third, governments that are
taking this issue seriously are converging on a similar platform-governance
agenda. This agenda recognizes that there are no silver-bullets, and that
instead policies must be domestically implemented and internationally coordinated
across three domains.
which seek to address a wide range of both supply and demand issues about the
nature, amplification, and legality of content in our digital public sphere.
which ensure that public data is used for public good and that citizens have
far greater rights over the use, mobility and monetization of their data.
And Competition policies which promote free and competitive markets in
the digital economy.
Fourth, the propensity
in the platform governance conversation to overcomplicate solutions serves the
interests of the status quo. There are actually many sensible policies that
could and should be implemented immediately.
The online ad
microtargeting market must be made radically more transparent, and in some
cases suspended entirely.
Data privacy regimes should
be updated to provide far greater rights to individuals and greater oversight
and regulatory power to punish abuses.
Tax policy can be
modernized to better reflect the consumption of digital goods and to crack down
on tax base erosion and profit shifting.
policy can be used to restrict and rollback acquisitions and to separate
platform ownership from application or product development.
Civic media can be
supported as a public good.
and long-term civic literacy and critical thinking efforts can be funded at
scale by national governments.
That few of these have
been implemented is a problem of political will, not policy or technical
Finally, there are three
policy questions for whichthere
are neither easy solutions, meaningful consensus nor appropriate existing
institutions, and where there may be irreconcilable tensions between the design
of the platforms and the objectives of public policy.
The first is how we
regulate harmful speech in the digital public sphere. At the moment, we have
largely outsourced the application of national laws, as well as the
interpretation of difficult tradeoffs between free speech and personal and
public harms to the platforms themselves – companies who seek solutions that
can be implemented at scale globally.
In this case, what is possible technically and financially, might be
insufficient for the public good.
The second is who is liable
for content online? We have clearly moved beyond the notion of platform
neutrality and absolute safe harbor, but what legal mechanisms are best suited
to holding platforms, their design, and those that run them accountable?
Third, as artificial
intelligence increasingly shapes the character and economy of our digital public sphere, how will we bring
these opaque systems into our laws, norms and regulations?
conversations should not be outsourced to the private sector, they need to be led
by democratically accountable governments and their citizens. But this is going
to require political will and policy leadership – precisely what this committee
Thank you again for this