Experts, Advocates Urge EU Parliament to Make Social Media Platforms “Safe by Default” in time for 2024 Elections

Real Facebook Oversight Board
3 min readMar 5, 2024

Proposed rule would stop engagement-based content recommendations, a critical step to slow disinformation and toxic election content

5 March 2024 — The Real Facebook Oversight Board today urged the European Commission for Communications Networks, Content and Technology to adopt a proposal under the Digital Services Act that would mandate large social media platforms to “turn off by default” recommender systems based on profiling, a rule first implemented in Ireland this year.

“‘Safe by Default’ is an urgent step to protect the integrity of the 2024 EU elections, and to slow the deluge of targeted disinformation and weaponised content intended to confuse and mislead voters,” a spokesperson for Real Facebook Oversight Board said. “We are facing a disinformation emergency; the Commission has the means and now a specific policy to break glass and act.”

“Switching defaults so that a person is now given the choice whether they wish to switch profiling-based recommender systems on rather than off is a targeted measure to address the acute harms created and amplified by such recommender systems.”

The Real Facebook Oversight Board joined a letter supporting the rule organised by People v. Big Tech, which reflects growing civil society momentum for the rule. And RFOB developed a policy brief outlining the context for supporting the rule. Both cited the EU’s own findings and articles of the 2023 Digital Services Act in urging the Commission to Act -

  • Profiling-based recommender systems are one of the major areas where platform design decisions contribute to “systemic risks”, as defined in Article 34 of the DSA, especially when it comes to “any actual or foreseeable negative effects” for the exercise of civic discourse and electoral processes.
  • In its recent report on addictive design, the EU Parliament cited “the detrimental impact of recommender systems on online services that engage in profiling individuals, especially minors, with the intention of keeping users on the platform as long as possible, thus manipulating them through the artificial amplification of hate, suicide, self-harm, and disinformation.”
  • The Commission has also noted that “During electoral periods, it is of particular importance that providers … show that content moderation decisions do not affect the equality of candidates or disproportionately favour or promote voices representing certain (polarised) views.”

RFOB noted this is only a first step, encouraging longer-term consideration and research of an outright ban of profiling-driven recommender systems and a move toward alternative ways to curate our social media feeds. The immediate step, however, of “safe by default” has “merit to tackle the youth mental health crisis and the rise of political polarization.” RFOB, its members and allies intend to campaign for the rule, and activate its audience to advocate for it.

“Profiling-based recommender systems are a risk we can’t afford any longer,” said a spokesperson for RFOB, “especially with democracy on the line across Europe. We urge passage of this rule and more actions to follow to rein in runaway toxic content based on social media’s dangerous algorithms.”

Real Facebook Oversight Board members are available for interviews. Statements do not reflect the individual positions of all Real Facebook Oversight Board Members. Contact us at media@the-citizens.com. The Real Facebook Oversight Board is an emergency response to the ongoing harms on Facebook’s platforms from leading global scholars, experts and advocates.

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Real Facebook Oversight Board

An emergency response to the ongoing harms on Facebook’s platforms from leading global scholars, experts and advocates.