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White House commits to tackling “harms” caused by Big Tech platforms

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The decision of former Facebook employee Frances Haugen to come out against the company guns blazing is a gift that keeps on giving, at least to those who are pushing for more stringent regulation of social media sites – and in favor of a particular type of moderation.

And it isn’t the kind that would enable for more free expression or less poorly justified interference by “fact-checkers” and similar unaccountable entities, but the kind that would put even more pressure to do away with content that is seen as “harmful to society.” Mostly, this refers to categories of speech that are often seemingly arbitrarily labeled as hateful, or as “misinformation.”

After the EU openly expressed interest in working with Haugen – who had the privilege of testifying before US Senate this week – in pushing through their own legislation to this end, the White House has joined in, with its press secretary responding to a reporter’s question by telling a briefing that President Biden “has long said that tech platforms must be held accountable for the harms that they cause.”

When Haugen initially leaked Facebook’s internal documents, reports, like the one in the Wall Street Journal, naturally put the emphasis on what is perhaps the most explosive revelation in those leaks: that VIP figures enjoy privileged treatment on the platform, and are exempt from following the same rules as billions of the giant’s “ordinary” users.

But quickly, the focus shifted on what Haugen apparently wanted to highlight all along: Facebook’s allegedly harmful effects on mental health, for example of “young girls on Instagram,” and the contribution of (insufficiently “moderated”) debates taking place on the platform to political division.

So when a reporter asked the White House press secretary Jen Psaki whether Biden stood by his campaign statements regarding Section 230, in light of Haugen’s “revelations” – namely, Biden saying that Section 230 should be “immediately revoked” because Facebook “is not just an internet company, it is propagating falsehoods they know to be false” – she replied:

“Well, the president has long said, as you referenced, that tech platforms must be held accountable for the harms that they cause. And he has been a strong supporter of fundamental reforms to achieve that goal. This includes Section 230 reforms.” Almost as an afterthought, she added, “It also includes privacy and antitrust reforms as well as more transparency. That should also be on the table.”

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