What is happening in the United States also has a resonance in Europe, and threats to democracy must be combated here as well.
The United States events continue to shock. We cannot afford to forget the whole thing after recovering from the shock.
Democracy is fragile and prone to attacks. We defenders of democracy have naively believed that democracy and the values associated with it defend themselves.
We have now received evidence that many have lost confidence in democratic institutions. The digital environment creates opportunities for democracies but also poses enormous risks to them. Events in the United States also have a resonance in Europe.
The focus is now on technological waste, as they have evasively made money with deliberately misleading information and allowed hostile actors to pursue their economic or political goals. It can be dangerous for freedom of speech for them to be able to terminate the account of the sitting President of the United States on unclear grounds. While I believe that the incitement to irresponsible violence by Donald Trump requires a response, this cannot continue.
It needs to be tightened up regulation and increase the responsibility of digital actors. The Commission has recently proposed a Digital Services Act to increase the accountability of online platforms and clarify the rules for removing illegal content.
We need urgent action to improve citizen participation in the digital age. We are assisted by the European Action Plan for Democracy. We need a new agreement to combat misleading information. Instead of shooting from the hip, companies need to join a predictable system with transparent practices.
Not all details of digital life can and should be addressed by regulation alone. We must not sacrifice freedom of expression. However, the thinking in the field of technology needs to change.
In addition to legislation, architects follow ethical rules to ensure that the buildings they design are safe. Coders and IT experts should follow a similar approach when designing algorithms. I rarely hear such a message from technology leaders.
Today, online services are gatekeepers with no competitors. We cannot choose online platforms in the same way as stores where we do business. I cannot build a new motorway between Brussels and Paris, although I would not like the former. Online platforms must be subject to the rules proposed in the EU Digital Single Market Act.
Although Trump leaves, the reasons behind the dichotomy and mistrust remain. Similar ideas are gaining ground in Europe.
We need to work with the new President of the United States, Joe Biden, to create common rules that reflect our democratic values. It is becoming increasingly clear on both sides of the Atlantic that issues related to technological waste can threaten our democracies.
We can no longer accept attacks on our values, the rule of law, independent judges, the media, fundamental rights and democracy. Attacks must be repelled. Citizens need to be shown that threats to democracy threaten their rights and freedoms.
We do not nor can anyone be left behind. When Trump’s accounts on social media services were closed, many of his supporters switched to other online platforms and closed themselves into even more airtight bubbles. We need to find ways in which they can take part in the democratic debate again. Confidence in democracy must be rebuilt.
I have lived in communist Czechoslovakia. I know what it is like to live without democracy and equal rights. Democracy is not perfect, but it is based on citizens and their mutual trust. It is definitely worth fighting for.
The author is the Vice-President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency.
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