The European Commission has welcomed actions taken by internet platforms to combat disinformation in anticipation of the European elections.
Facebook, Google and Twitter yesterday published reports detailing the progress they had made in implementing the EU’s Code of Practice on Disinformation throughout March. All three platforms are voluntary signatories to the code, first implemented in September 2018, which provides guidelines for online platforms, social media networks and advertisers to self-regulate in order to prevent the dissemination of disinformation across participating outlets. As part of their acquiescence to the terms of the code, the platforms have agreed to provide monthly reports on the work they have done to implement best practice procedures to counter disinformation.
Facebook reported the introduction of its political advertising policy, to include a publicly available advertisements library, covering both Facebook and Instagram. During March the social media platform reported removing a range of advertisements which had violated its policies on low quality, disruptive and misleading content; as well as the removal of a significant number of fake Facebook accounts. Facebook also reported the removal of eight “coordinated inauthentic behaviour networks”, although it was unclear whether these networks could have had a tangible impact on EU users.
Google’s efforts in implementing the Code of Practice on Disinformation in March were focused primarily on boosting oversight on the placement of online advertisements on pages viewed within the EU. Google began enforcing a stricter policy on political and election-related advertisements from 21 March; and in April the site launched a searchable library of advertisements and their provenance, as well as introducing an EU Elections Ads Transparency Report. As has been the case in previous months, Google reported the removal in March of a number of YouTube channels for various breaches of its rules regarding spam, impersonation and deceptive practices.
Twitter has also updated its policy on political and campaigning advertisements and broadened the scope of its rules on public disclosure of political advertising content. Twitter gave overall figures on its removal of accounts determined to be fake or spam, but did not elaborate on whether these accounts had been active in the EU; nor did it report on any further action taken to improve its scrutiny of advertising placement.
Vice-President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip, Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Věra Jourová and Commissioner for the Security Union Julian King released a joint statement welcoming the progress made by Facebook, Google and Twitter. The statement said: “[F]urther technical improvements as well as sharing of methodology and data sets for fake accounts are necessary to allow third-party experts, fact-checkers and researchers to carry out independent evaluation. At the same time, it is regrettable that Google and Twitter have not yet reported further progress regarding transparency of issue-based advertising, meaning issues that are sources of important debate during elections.”
The Commissioners added: “We are pleased to see that the collaboration under the Code of Practice on Disinformation has encouraged Facebook, Google and Twitter to take further action to ensure the integrity of their services and fight against malicious bots and fake accounts. In particular, we welcome Google increasing cooperation with fact-checking organisations and networks. Furthermore, all three platforms have been carrying out initiatives to promote media literacy and provide training to journalists and campaign staff. The voluntary actions taken by the platforms are a step forward to support transparent and inclusive elections and better protect our democratic processes from manipulation, but a lot still remains to be done. We look forward to the next reports from April showing further progress ahead of the European elections.”
The European Commission intends to implement a comprehensive assessment of the efficacy of the Code of Practice on Disinformation by the end of 2019.