Don't let big tech hide what it is doing to us

Don't let big tech hide what it is doing to us

We are experiencing an information revolution. Search engines, chatbots, and artificial intelligence have replaced the traditional gatekeepers to knowledge, such as librarians, government officials, and journalists.

Social media feeds

The old gatekeepers had flaws but were at least on paper obedient to the public. The new gatekeepers have a fundamental allegiance to profits and their shareholders.

This is about to be changed, thanks to an ambitious experiment by the

European Union


The ambitious E.U. package will be implementing key provisions on August 25. The ambitious package of E.U.

Digital Services Act

The Digital Markets Act is the largest effort to check the power of

Big Tech

(outside of the outright prohibitions in places such as China and India). Tech platforms will be required to respond to the public for the first time in a variety of ways. This includes giving users the option to appeal the removal of their content, offering a choice of algorithm and preventing microtargeting based on sensitive data like religion, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Reforms require that large tech platforms audit their algorithms in order to assess how they impact democracy, human right and physical and mental health for minors and users.

It will be the very first time companies are required to identify the harms their platforms cause and take action. The law requires that large tech platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, provide researchers access to their real-time data. The European Union has not yet decided on a key element: whether journalists have access to this data. Journalists are often the first to report harms, which researchers can then expand upon and regulators act upon. The New York Times, and The Observer of London, revealed the Cambridge Analytica scandal in which consultants for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign exploited Facebook data of millions of people without their consent. BuzzFeed News published a report on offensive Facebook posts detailing the role that Facebook played in the mass murder of Rohingyas. My team at ProPublica exposed how Facebook lets advertisers discriminate when posting housing and employment ads.

It is getting harder to get data from platforms. Facebook was particularly aggressive in shutting down accounts of researchers from New York University for "unauthorized methods" of accessing Facebook Ads in 2021. In the same year, Facebook also threatened to sue a European research organization, AlgorithmWatch. This forced it to close down its Instagram monitoring program. Twitter has also started limiting the ability of all users to view tweets earlier this month in an effort to stop A.I. from automating the collection of data on Twitter's site. Chatbots, bots and spammers are all "bad actors". "At the same time, tech companies are also shutting down authorized platforms. Facebook disbanded its team in 2021 that was responsible for CrowdTangle's analytics tool, which many researchers relied on to analyze trends. Twitter has replaced its free researcher tool with an unreliable and prohibitively expensive paid version. This year, Twitter replaced its free researcher tools with a paid version that is prohibitively expensive and unreliable. As a consequence, the public now has less visibility into how global information gatekeepers behave. Last month, U.S. Senator Chris Coons presented the Platform Accountability and Transparency Act legislation, which would require social media firms to share more data to researchers and give journalists who collect data in the interest of the public reasonable privacy protections. But as it stands, European academics will apply to a regulator for access to the data and, hopefully, and, and, and, and, and, and, and, and, and, and, We must support journalists on the frontlines who chronicle how despots and trolls are weaponizing tech platform or are enabled by them. The Twitter research feed, which Rappler relied on, has been shut down, and platforms are crackingdown on data access. It's unclear how Ms. Ressa, her colleagues, and their important accountability journalism can continue. Ressa, in a public comment filed by her in May, asked the European Commission to give journalists "access to real time data" to help them provide a "macro view of the patterns and trends created by these technology companies and the harms that they cause in the real world." I also submitted comments to the European Commission along with over a dozen other journalists asking the commission to support journalists' access to platform data. Daphne Keller is the director of Stanford's Cyber Policy Center's program on platform regulation. In her comments to the European Union she argues that allowing journalists and researches to use automated tools in order to collect publicly-available data from platforms, is the best way to ensure transparency. This "rare form of transparency" does not rely on the platforms themselves to provide information or to act as gatekeepers. "Of course the tech platforms will often fight transparency requests, claiming they have to protect their users' privacy. It's hilarious that their business model is based on mining their users' data and monetizing it. Journalists write the first draft of history.