A senior European Union official has warned online platforms such as Google and Facebook to step up the fight against fake news, coming notably from countries such as China and Russia.
However, European Commission vice president Vera Jourova praised the approach of Twitter for fact-checking a tweet by US President Donald Trump.
Unveiling a plan to fight disinformation linked to coronavirus, Ms Jourova said that she wants online tech companies to provide detailed reports each month on the action they are taking to prevent a fake news “infodemic”.
The commission insists that “foreign actors and certain third countries, in particular Russia and China, have engaged in targeted influence operations and disinformation campaigns in the EU, its neighbourhood, and globally”.
#Disinformation waves have hit Europe during #Coronavirus. They harm not only the health of our democracies, but also of our citizens. To fight them, we need to mobilise all relevant players from fact-checkers, researchers to online platforms and authorities.#EUvsDisinfo pic.twitter.com/aTWV2SYXSz— VÄra JourovÃ¡ (@VeraJourova) June 10, 2020
She praised those US digital giants that agreed to extra scrutiny under a voluntary code of practice aimed at halting the spread of disinformation linked to the virus, but she told reporters that this is just a first step and that “there is room for improvement”.
“They have to open up and offer more evidence that the measures they have taken are working well,” she said. “They also have to enable the public to identify new threats independently. We invite them now to provide monthly reports with more granular information than ever before.”
She noted that short-video app TikTok would soon sign up to the disinformation code of practice, launched in 2018.
Ms Jourova played down concerns that the EU Commission, which proposes laws in the 27-nation bloc and ensures that they are enforced, plans to regulate disinformation itself, saying: “I don’t want to create a ministry of truth.”
But she praised the approach of Twitter last month, when it placed fact-check warnings on two tweets from Mr Trump’s own account that called mail-in election ballots “fraudulent” and predicted problems with the November US elections.
Under the tweets, there is now a link reading “Get the facts about mail-in ballots” that guides users to a Twitter “moments” page with fact checks and news stories about Mr Trump’s unsubstantiated claims.
“I support the Twitter reaction to tweets of President Trump,” Ms Jourova told reporters. “They did not delete it. We all can see it. They provided fact-checked information and promoted facts.”
The big US tech companies, which have been filing monthly reports since February 2019 on progress eradicating fake news in general from their platforms, said they supported the EU’s new request for more detailed data on their work to limit virus-related disinformation and advertising.
I'm pleased to announce that TikTok confirmed that they are joining the EU Code on Disinformation and will soon conclude the formalities. We're also in intensive conversations with Whatsapp on measures to address disinformation and how they could be part of the Code.#EUvsDisinfo pic.twitter.com/hNF6x9MoCm— VÄra JourovÃ¡ (@VeraJourova) June 10, 2020
“We share the European Commission’s goal of reducing misinformation about Covid-19,” Facebook said in a statement. The company noted its efforts on fact-checking, labelling content and “removing hundreds of thousands of pieces of misinformation about the virus that could lead to imminent physical harm”.
Twitter has been “engaging with the European Commission, as well as industry partners, civil society and the research community, since February specifically on Covid-19,” said Sinead McSweeney, its vice president of public policy.
The social media company said it was strengthening how it tackles misinformation, including promoting better media literacy across the EU.
Google said it is co-operating with Ms Jourova and national authorities and is committed to finding “new and creative ways to continue the fight against disinformation”.