European Commission says tech companies must do more to fight disinformation

European Commission says tech companies must do more to fight disinformation
Legal

The European Commission has warned that tech platforms’ voluntary, self-regulatory efforts to minimize disinformation need to go much further, in their latest progress report on an agreement several of the largest companies signed a year ago, according to TechCrunch

Facebook, Google, Twitter, Mozilla, and Microsoft signed on to the EU’s Code of Practice on Disinformation in 2018. The commission’s latest progress report, published Tuesday alongside self-reporting from the companies, says there’s much more to be done.

In a joint statement, commissioners Vera Jourova, Julian King, and Mariya Gabriel said:

“Large-scale automated propaganda and disinformation persist and there is more work to be done under all areas of the Code. We cannot accept this as a new normal.”

As companies take steps to self-regulate, EU lawmakers are working to implement their own regulations, including a comprehensive Digital Services Act, which Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen has promised to enact in her first 100 days in office. The measure would expand “liability and safety rules for digital platforms, services and products.”

The commission said in their statement on the report: 

“We commend the commitment of the online platforms to become more transparent about their policies and to establish closer cooperation with researchers, fact-checkers and Member States. However, progress varies a lot between signatories and the reports provide little insight on the actual impact of the self-regulatory measures taken over the past year as well as mechanisms for independent scrutiny.”

The report also encourages companies to work more closely with independent oversight organizations in the future. The commission has hired an independent consultant to publish its own report on their progress next year. 

“We appreciate the Commission’s extensive report, and share the same commitment to reduce the spread of online misinformation,” Facebook said in a statement

In a report on its own measures to comply with the Code, Facebook said it removes millions of accounts daily, and recently removed several networks of fake accounts linked to disinformation campaigns by Russia and Iran. 

But with rising backlash against tech platforms in recent years, much of which has focused on fake news, fact-checking, and misinformation, these self-regulating measures won’t likely be enough to quiet calls for direct regulation. 

“If we’re really going to make progress on this, then we’re going to have to have a step-change in the amount of outside scrutiny that platforms are willing to tolerate,” said King, who serves as the commission’s security chief.

King added that if more progress hasn’t been shown by the end of the year, further “regulatory or co-regulatory measures” may be necessary. 

Photo by Olaf Kosinsky [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)]

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