The Issue

The unregulated attention economy driving social media is fraying our democracy, threatening our mental and physical health, and exposing our children to violent and disturbing content.

Our limited attention has become the most valuable resource on the internet and it is captured and manipulated via the rampant and unregulated collection of our personal data. This is surveillance capitalism at work - a relentless assault on our private data that provide intimate insights which are sold to the highest bidder, with next-to-no awareness or control.

We are told that having our data taken is the price we pay for the “free” use of digital services. But this system places the priorities of corporates ahead of the social good while it manipulates our social perspective, drives division and isolates us from each other.

There are few practical ways to opt out of the attention economy that depends on pervasive surveillance. And even if you manage to on an individual level, the real world impact of this data-driven social manipulation is impossible to avoid. Big Tech controls a global audience of billions with a market power that is unprecedented in the history of media. Yet they have almost no oversight and reject liability for the harms their products cause.

The harms we focus on

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Foreign Interference in our democracy

Malicious actors have weaponised social media algorithms and advertising platforms to spread lies and disinformation designed to outrage. It leaves our society increasingly polarised and our democracy vulnerable to interference.
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Threats to the safety of our children

The algorithmic amplification of harmful content on the Internet has severe impacts on children from negative mental health to triggering self harm. In most instances, parents cannot see the content that is being tailored to their children, or meaningfully restrict their exposure. Working to safeguard our youngest and most vulnerable provides government an opportunity to examine how surveillance, data profiling, and targeted media products contribute to negative social impact more broadly.
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Amplification of extreme voices

Algorithms designed to hold our attention do so by pushing us into echo chambers by serving us emotionally engaging content that tends to be sensational, conspiratorial or outrageous. From anti-vaccination misinformation to conspiracy theory and home-grown terrorism, the commercial incentives of digital media platforms can have the perverse affect of artificially amplifying extreme views from the margins to the mainstream.

Why we need to act now

We are facing an urgent crisis where digital platforms are threatening our democracy. Hate speech, disinformation and polarisation are increasingly the by-products of the Big Tech business model.

Yet the internet doesn’t have to be this way. Less than a decade ago it was rightly celebrated for enabling democratic movements, sparking collaboration, empowering the disadvantaged and increasing access to knowledge for anyone with a smartphone.

It can still do all of these things. This crisis can – and will – be averted. But only if we act now.

We must reset the rules to stop Big Tech companies profiting from public harm. We can redirect their ambition and innovation to achieve better goals. Code can be changed, markets can be regulated, democracy can be strengthened.