Facebook, Google and Twitter are still not doing enough to tackle fake news plaguing the election campaign to the European Parliament, the European Commission said on Friday in its latest report.
The European Commission on Friday published the reports and analysis of the progress made in April 2019 by Facebook, Google and Twitter to fight disinformation. The three online platforms are signatories to the Code of Practice against disinformation and have committed to report monthly on measures taken ahead of the European Parliament elections in May 2019.
Vice-President 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 said in a joint statement:
"We recognise the continued progress made by Facebook, Google and Twitter on their commitments to increase transparency and protect the integrity of the upcoming elections.
We welcome the robust measures that all three platforms have taken against manipulative behaviour on their services, including coordinated disinformation operations. They have also provided data on measures to improve the scrutiny of ad placements. However, more needs to be done to strengthen the integrity of their services, including advertising services. Moreover, the data provided still lacks the level of detail necessary to allow for an independent and accurate assessment of how the platforms' policies have actually contributed to reducing the spread of disinformation in the EU.
All three signatories have now created publicly accessible political ad libraries and enabled searches through APIs, which is a clear improvement. We regret however that Google and Twitter were not able to develop and implement policies for the identification and public disclosure of issue-based ads, which can be sources of divisive public debate during elections, hence prone to disinformation.
Looking beyond the European elections, all signatories should now step up their efforts to broaden cooperation with fact checkers in all Member States as well as to empower users and the research community. In particular, online platforms need to put in practice their broader set of commitments under the Code of Practice, notably by engaging with traditional media to develop transparency and trustworthiness indicators for information sources so that users are offered a fair choice of relevant, verified information.
We also call upon platforms to cooperate closer with the research community to identify and access relevant datasets, which would enable better detection and analysis of disinformation campaigns, sound monitoring of the Code's implementation and impact, and independent oversight of the functioning of algorithms, for the benefit of all citizens.
Finally, following statements from Microsoft that it also plans to subscribe to the Code, we encourage even wider take-up of the Code amongst the online platforms as well as advertisers and ad-network operators, so that the Code can reach its full potential."
The latest reports cover measures taken by online companies in April 2019. They allow the European Commission to verify that effective policies to ensure integrity of the electoral processes are in place before the European elections in May 2019.
By the end of 2019, the European Commission will carry out an assessment of the Code's initial 12-month period. Should the results prove unsatisfactory, the Commission may propose further measures, including of a regulatory nature.
According to the report:
- Google reported on additional measures taken to improve scrutiny of ad placements in the EU, including a breakdown per European Member State. It noted the availability of the EU Transparency Report on political advertising and its searchable ad library, including the possibility to use Google Cloud's BigQuery application programming interface to run customised queries. Google reported on its ongoing efforts to provide transparency around issue-based advertising, but announced that a solution would not be in place before the European elections. Global data was again provided on the removal of a significant number of YouTube channels for violation of its policies on spam, deceptive practices and scams, and impersonation.
- Facebook reported on measures taken in the EU against ads that violated its policies for containing low quality, disruptive, misleading or false content or trying to circumvent its systems. It started enforcing its policy on political and issue-based advertising mid-April and removing non-compliant ads from Facebook and Instagram. The April report also provided information on the opening of its elections operation centre in Dublin, which involves specialists covering all EU Member States and languages. Facebook reported of taking down a coordinated inauthentic behaviour network originating from Russia and focusing on Ukraine. The report did not state whether this network also affected users in the EU. Furthermore, Facebook reported on new access for researchers to its CrowdTangle application programming interface and its URLs Data Set.
- Twitter reported on ads rejected for not complying with its policies on unacceptable business practices and quality ads. It provided information on ads not served because of uncompleted certification process that is obligatory for political campaign advertisers. Twitter reported on a new election integrity policy, prohibiting specific categories of manipulative behaviour and content, such as misleading information about how to participate in the elections and voter intimidation. Twitter provided figures on measures against spam and fake accounts, but did not provide further insights on these measures, i.e. how they relate to activity in the EU.