The European Union is set to present the Digital Services Act this week. Among many other alterations to the online market, it seeks to provide more transparency over algorithms due to the current opaque nature in which they are imposed.
It deems that the national supervisory authorities should have access to the software documentation and data sets of algorithms under review, while said algorithms should be presented in a “concise, transparent, intelligible and easily accessible form, using clear and plain language” to the public.
This transparency should also apply to the Big Tech platforms’ algorithms that manage messages inviting users to adopt a certain behaviour on the eve of or during elections. Such messages can have important consequences for democratic processes. While in the United States, the role of Big Tech has come under intense scrutiny in recent years, the very same companies who now play such a prominent part in shaping public opinion are also having a determining say on European elections in ways that are far from transparent.
Far from the free and open platforms they were upon their inception, Big Tech companies and social networks have risen to an unprecedented level of power from which they play an active role in politics through vested financial and political motives, exerting influence through algorithmic alterations, subjective censorship and calls to action on their platforms.
Calls to action
Facebook ran one of the largest human experiments in history on the day of the 2010 US congressional elections, sending out vote reminders to 61 million users, roughly a quarter of the country’s population.
The results of these findings were released in 2012, in a report titled ‘A 61-Million-Person Experiment in Social Influence and Political Mobilization’ and revealed that ‘vote buttons’ helped create 340,000 new voters, and showed that around 20 per …