Metaverse regulation: the discussion must start early

Metaverse regulation: the discussion must start early

The storming of the US capitol a year ago embarrassed US’ reputation as a democracy. It also intensified the discussion about who controls social media and what you can say there. Donald Trump could have tried to stop the mob that wanted to prevent Joe Biden to be declared winner of the presidential election. But he didn’t. Instead, he was understood as stimulating the mob to more violence and his social media accounts were blocked.

The issue will be even more vital if the metaverse is developed as for instance Mark Zuckerberg wants. Today, it’s an issue who controls his Facebook. The discussion will be expanded to who controls also the metaverse and what can be said there.

The metaverse vision is a gigantic beyond real life network of digital platforms. Companies have already started planning for how to use the metaverse commercially and The Harvard Business Review has published strategies for companies going to the metaverse. A huge network of digital platforms will of course also potentially be a platform for politics and opinion building. An even bigger megaphone for politicians and disinformation.

Who is going to decide what can be said there? Is it bodies like Facebook’s Oversight Board with invited specialists representing law, academia and media? Is it governments as a recent survey by the New York University indicates? Or is it legal networks set up by elected lawmakers as suggested by the European Commission and Parliament in the Digital Markets and Digital Services Acts that aim at controlling big tech, secure competition and force big tech to fight disinformation better?

The conclusion of a recent survey by the New York University is that as social media have failed to self-regulate, the US government needs to act.  Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are not the original or main cause of the rising political polarization, but the use of those platforms intensifies divisiveness and thus contributes to its corrosive consequences.

The New York University, Stem center for business and human rights studied the political polarization after the storming of the US Capitol and former president Donald Trump’s refusal to accept that Joe Biden won the presidential election.

The study says that President Biden needs to prioritize a broad government response to the heightening of partisan hatred by social media. “Biden should seek to persuade both lawmakers and the public that to avoid future versions of the Capitol insurrection, we must confront online polarization and its malign consequences.”

Americans are split on whether former President Donald Trump should be barred from social media. Some 49% of US adults say Trump’s accounts should be permanently banned from social media, while some 50% say they should not be. Views are deeply divided along partisan lines, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

The survey was conducted before Facebook’s independent oversight board upheld the suspension of Trump’s accounts on Facebook and Instagram but said the suspension should have a deadline. It was later decided that Trump will get back access to his accounts in time for the 2024 US presidential election but not for the 2022 mid-term elections.

The presentation of the Oversight Board says:

”The board uses its independent judgment to support people’s right to free expression and ensure those rights are being adequately respected. The board’s decisions to uphold or reverse Facebook’s content decisions will be binding, meaning Facebook will have to implement them, unless doing so could violate the law.”

The board comprises respected specialists bt they are not elected, not supervised and the initiative to the board came from Facebook itself.

The European Digital Markets and the Digital Services Acts are meant to limit the power and dominance of the world’s big tech companies by increasing competition and putting pressure on big tech to fight disinformation better.  The two major EU laws are on their way to becoming reality.

During the first half of 2022, negotiations between governments in the European Council will start, interestingly enough under French presidency as France has positioned itself as a frontrunner in the ambition to get a better control over big tech that are so powerful that they challenge not only governments but all of the European Union.

Eva Kaili is the most influential EMP in EU’s Digital Policy, according to the Influence Index 2020. Working closely with EU commissioner Margrethe Vestager, she is one of the top politicians in Europe apt to talk about how EU is working to protect digital rights as citizens and what the big tech companies should expect (including fines).

Talking to Moonshot.News’ Dimitra Letsa, Eva Kaili stressed that in Europe when it comes to citizens’ privacy protection and freedom of speech it is democratically elected legislators deciding – not the big IT. Legislation is needed, she says. “We cannot expect self-control and self-regulation – especially not from the superpowers and the big platforms.”

What we know is that not only the EU member countries but also the rest of the world is waiting to see if the European Union can come up with a trustworthy solution on how to control social media and big tech; what can be said there and;  what content must be removed because it is disinformation perhaps even a threat to democracy.


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