DAVOS — Meta should be more active in combating fake news on WhatsApp, said a member of the tech giant's oversight board in Davos today.

Former Denmark Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who sits on Meta's oversight board, made the comments at an H/Advisors session which examined the threat to democracy posed by social media and artificial intelligence.

"Of course, Meta has a responsibility to keep check on [WhatsApp] groups," she said. "They have a responsibility to make sure there's not loads of mis and disinformation on those groups. If we're not responsible, regulation will act."

Will Lewis, CEO of the Washington Post, echoed concerns about the threat to democracy from social media and AI, emphasizing the urgency of addressing the issue, particularly in light of state-sponsored disinformation.

"The threat is very significant. The longer we delay doing something about it, the worse it gets," Lewis warned. "It's not coming, it's here. It's going to take a multi-level effort from all elements of society to fight back. If we don't, there's a significant threat to the health, wellbeing, and presence of democracy, discourse, debate, and the ability to have freedom of thought in societies around the world."

Thorning-Schmidt acknowledged that while social media and AI have the potential for both good and harm, these platforms bear a substantial responsibility. "If we say everything that's not true is not permissible on the platform - then we are going down the wrong path," she cautioned. "Is this content misinformation or disinformation, and is it causing real, live harm? It's very difficult to find out. Sometimes, they get a little bit guided by governments about what content should be removed — we need transparency from the companies."

Addressing the role of governments and public actors, Thorning-Schmidt emphasized the need for higher scrutiny. "We also have to demand that public actors have a higher level of scrutiny than others," she noted. "They are obliged to tell the truth and not instigate violence."

However, Thorning-Schmidt stressed that full government regulation of social media platforms may not be the solution. "There's no way that government regulators can regulate social media platforms completely. How much should government actually intervene? I would say very little," she suggested. "But we also have to have very responsible companies. They need some form of self-regulation."

Moderated by H/Advisors co-CEO Neil Bennnett, the session also highlighted the changing landscape of information consumption. "If you look at the decline in the traditional subscription model, the appetite for an all-you-can-eat buffet, that is definitely on the wane," said Lewis. "We think the industry needs to get much better at meeting people where they are and talking a language they understand. That's on social, where you need to develop new storytelling techniques."

Those changes have implications for democracy too. "We mustn't forget that to a certain extent, this is about equity," said Thorning-Schmidt. "It's also about everyone having a fair chance to participate in society — education, jobs, having a fair chance of keeping themselves informed. If you don't have a stake in this, why would you vote?"