European Commission accuses internet giants over disinformation

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The European Commission has accused Facebook, Google and Twitter of failing to provide enough details on the steps they have taken to cut disinformation on their services.

As part of its Code of Practice against disinformation, which the three internet giants signed up to last year, they must provide monthly updates on their actions ahead of European Parliament elections in May. The commission acknowledged some work was being done by the firms, but there was “room for improvement for all signatories”.

A joint statement was issued by Andrus Ansip, vice-president for the digital single market; Vera Jourova, commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality; Julian King, commissioner for the security union; and Mariya Gabriel, commissioner for the digital economy and society.

They said: “The online platforms, which signed the Code of Practice, are rolling out their policies in Europe to support the integrity of elections.

“This includes better scrutiny of advertisement placements, transparency tools for political advertising, and measures to identify and block inauthentic behaviour on their services.

“However, we need to see more progress on the commitments made by online platforms to fight disinformation.

“Platforms have not provided enough details showing that new policies and tools are being deployed in a timely manner and with sufficient resources across all EU member states. The reports provide too little information on the actual results of the measures already taken.”

Warnings have previously been issued over cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns targeting the European elections, with all three platforms publicly announcing programmes to increase transparency around political advertising and tools to prevent cyber attacks.

The EC’s latest report said Facebook had failed to provide details on its scrutiny of advert placements and had not reported on the number of fake accounts removed for activities that specifically target the European Union.

Google and Twitter were also told to provide more specific information around advert placement. “The platforms have failed to identify specific benchmarks that would enable the tracking and measurement of progress in the EU,” the commission said.

“The quality of the information provided varies from one signatory of the code to another depending on the commitment areas covered by each report. This clearly shows that there is room for improvement for all signatories.

“The electoral campaigns ahead of the European elections will start in earnest in March. We encourage the platforms to accelerate their efforts as we are concerned by the situation.

“We urge Facebook, Google and Twitter to do more across all member states to help ensure the integrity of the European Parliament elections in May 2019.

“We also encourage platforms to strengthen their co-operation with fact-checkers and academic researchers to detect disinformation campaigns and make fact-checked content more visible and widespread.”

A Facebook spokeswoman said: “We submitted our January report to the EU Code of Practice on Disinformation outlining recent progress we’ve made in implementing the code.

“In January, we’ve been focused on the development of our political ads authorisation process, ad labelling, the ad archive service, and the expansion of our elections integrity programme.

“We are in the process of developing performance indicators around political advertising, but these will only become available when the ads archive launches outside the US.

“With regards to the number of fake accounts we remove from Facebook, we provide updates on this in our twice-yearly transparency report. For example, we removed 1.5 billion fake accounts between April and September 2018.

A spokesman for Twitter said: “Our reports will continue to highlight our efforts to ensure security, integrity and transparency in the lead-up to the EU elections in May.

“We look forward to detailing in our next monthly report new rules on political campaign ads transparency for the elections, which we announced last week.”

Chris Price
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