Warning from European Commission comes ahead of European Parliament elections next month
Facebook, Google and Twitter have been told to share data about “fake accounts” with independent third party experts and researchers, in order to stop the spread of disinformation on social networking platforms.
The European Commission did however welcome the progress made by the big three in the fight against disinformation, but it warned that these firms had much more to do, and in particular it singled out Google and Twitter for not doing enough.
The warning and criticism of these tech firms comes after the European Commission had rebuked Facebook, Google and Twitter in February over their efforts to crack down on fake news.
All three firms had signed the EU Code of Practice against disinformation last December, and were asked to report monthly on their actions ahead of the European Parliament elections in May this year.
The elections come amid widespread concern at social media platforms being used to spread disinformation. These tech firms have been asked to tighten up on ad placement, transparency of political advertising, closure of fake accounts, and identifying automated bots.
The European Commission continues to examine the monthly reports from these firms, and for the month of March it continues to find them (mostly Google and Twitter) wanting in a number of areas.
Google had reported on specific actions taken to improve scrutiny of ad placements in the EU, including a breakdown per Member State.
But the EC said that Google has not reported further progress regarding the definition of issue-based advertising.
Facebook it seems made good progress, as it reported on actions taken against the ads that violated its policies for containing low quality, disruptive, misleading or false content or circumvented its systems. It also provided further information on its political ads policy, which will apply also to Instagram.
In addition, the social networking giant reported on the number of fake accounts disabled globally in Q1 of 2019 and on the takedown of eight coordinated inauthentic behaviour networks, originating in North Macedonia, Kosovo and Russia.
Meanwhile Twitter did provide an update to its political campaigning ads policy and provided further details on the public disclosure of political ads. It also provided figures on actions undertaken against spam and fake accounts.
But the Commission said Twitter had not provide further insights on these actions and how they relate to activity in the EU.
“Twitter did not report on any actions to improve the scrutiny of ad placements or provide any metrics with respect to its commitments in this area,” the EC added.
Must do more
On the whole, the VP for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Věra Jourová, Commissioner for the Security Union Julian King, and Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society Mariya Gabriel welcomed the progress made by the three firms.
“We appreciate the efforts made by Facebook, Google and Twitter to increase transparency ahead of the European elections,” they said in a statement. “We welcome that the three platforms have taken further action to fulfil their commitments under the Code.”
“All of them have started labelling political advertisements on their platforms,” they said. “In particular, Facebook and Twitter have made political advertisement libraries publicly accessible, while Google’s library has entered a testing phase. This provides the public with more transparency around political ads.”
“However, further 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,” they said. “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 Commission will carry out a comprehensive assessment of the Code’s initial 12-month period by the end of 2019,” they warned. “Should the results prove unsatisfactory, the Commission may propose further actions, including of a regulatory nature.”
The threat comes despite the progress made so far.
Last October Facebook said that it had carried out a fake news purge when it removed 559 pages and 251 accounts because of spam and “sensational political content.”
In August both Twitter and Facebook removed hundreds of accounts they said were being used to spread fake news. Those accounts were thought to be linked to both Iran and Russia.
And both Twitter and Facebook have appeared before the US congress in the past over the spread of misinformation.