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Annual Report 2023: an eventful year

Important changes never happen overnight. And explaining, defending and promoting our digital rights and the democratic rule of law is an ongoing task. We'd love to tell you about the issues we worked hard on in 2023.

Do you love horseback riding and like listening to Dutch folk singer André Hazes? Chances are you saw ads on social media for the Dutch political party BBB during the last general elections. Or are you more into field hockey and do you go to the museum a lot in your spare time? Then D66 was ready to target you. So much was revealed by the Dutch news magazine De Groene Amsterdammer in November 2023. Their research showed once again: anyone who can afford it can influence people online - in a very targeted manner.

For us, online influence in the context of the elections was therefore one of the big themes of 2023. From left to right; every political party seemed captivated by the profiling capabilities of Meta and Google. Parties pay big money to reach potential voters, also when it means that it disappears into the pockets of manipulative middlemen: Big Tech. This puts our democratic rights under pressure. How informed are we, and how free are our elections, when each of us is continuously and unknowingly influenced online?

Fortunately, our work on this topic has borne fruit: the European Digital Services Act (DSA) prohibits political ads based on sensitive data, such as sexual orientation, religion or ethnicity. This is now even being set out in a European law on political online ads. Something we have been fighting for for years!

How informed are we, and how free are our elections, when each of us is continuously and unknowingly influenced online?

But Bits of Freedom wouldn't be Bits of Freedom if we were not still concerned. We remain critical, because manipulation does not only happen in the context of elections, or through straight-up ads. Big Tech's sensationalist algorithms have shaped a public debate in which hate flourishes, outrage is rewarded and misinformation goes unpunished. And there's no easy fix. But that does not mean we should lose sight of small successes. Initiating change, and in our case advancing digital rights and the democratic rule of law, is something you're in for the long haul. By continuing to speak up, we will get there. Step by step.

We were pleased to see many of the changes we advocated for becoming reality in 2023. In addition to the new European rights for platform users, the year revolved around influencing the AI Act, limiting government surveillance and censorship, and conducting our own technical research into digital malpractice, among other things. We're looking forward to sharing some of the highlights of our work in this annual report. One thing is certain: our work is far from being done.

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