Address by European Parliament President, Antonio Tajani, at the Conference of Presidents with Mark Zuckerberg
(check against delivery)
In exactly one year, more than 400 million Europeans will elect those who will represent them in this parliament, exercising a fundamental right: expressing their free choice by voting.
The Cambridge Analytica affair sounded the alarm, but it is the tip of the iceberg. Our citizens need full and detailed explanations on a wide range of worrying issues.
I acknowledge that Mark Zuckerberg has accepted our invitation to appear in person before representatives of the European people to answer questions that affect them. It shows respect towards the EU’s only directly elected body with legislative oversight over largest market in the world. I now expect the same level of commitment and cooperation with the European Parliament from all other platforms in the future.
Europeans are rightfully calling for the right to exercise their vote next year with full knowledge, supported by accurate information. We must fight to guarantee that their personal data is never used again to unlawfully manipulate democracy.
Data has become a priceless resource that some will pay handsomely to obtain. It is the core business of many digital platforms and the price that many users inadvertently pay for services that are often free of charge.
Profiling techniques used to influence our behaviour are based on this huge mass of personal information collected on social media, online applications or software processed through algorithms.
This is "targeted marketing" now used in political campaigns that is often on the fringes of the law, if not outside it.
Democracy must not and cannot be turned into a marketing operation, in which those who take possession of our data gain a political advantage.
There is a risk that some parties, including foreign powers, will abuse data to manipulate election results in their interest. This also occurs through real disinformation strategies based on the diffusion of false information.
99% of Europeans encounter totally fake news on platforms. 83% consider fake news a threat to democracy.
In order to combat this dangerous development, we need stringent rules and for platforms to be responsible and cooperative.
Web giants must comply with rules governing our data use and collection. In two days’ time, the General Data Protection Regulation will come into force. This cutting-edge legislation championed by this parliament provides for heavy penalties against the misuse of the personal data of our citizens.
Liberal democracies are underpinned by the principle that freedom must always be accompanied by responsibility. Digital platforms must abide by it and be held accountable for the content they publish, including blatantly fake news.
Today's meeting is the starting point on a path towards a new era in digital platform governance. As we said, over the next few weeks, a series of public hearings with representatives from Facebook and other parties concerned will take place before the Committee for Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs as well as other competent committees paving the way forward.
After these hearings conclude, Parliament will indicate concrete solutions that platforms will have to introduce in order to shield all forthcoming elections from any risk of manipulation.
Our priority is to establish a framework of rules that will ensure the proper functioning of the digital market. It will impose new responsibilities on digital operators and the protection of personal data, copyright and consumers.
Social media is part of our everyday lives and how we interact with others. We certainly do not want to stop using them. However, we do expect our citizens to able to do so unperturbed by concerns that they are putting their privacy and freedom at risk.