EU strengthens action to tackle disinformation, expects reports from social media giants

epa08324074 A view of EU flags reflected on the closed doors of the European Council in Brussels, Belgium, 26 March 2020. EU leaders will debate the coordination of EU efforts to tackle the Covid-19 epidemic, as well as other issues, including foreign affairs, digital policy and enlargement. EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ

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Facebook, Google and Twitter should provide monthly reports on their fight against disinformation, two senior EU officials said on Wednesday  as they called out Russia and China for their roles in the spread of fake news.

The comments by EU foreign policy head Josep Borrell and the European Commission’s Vice President for values and transparency Vera Jourova underscore the bloc’s concerns about the prevalence of misleading news on COVID-19 and the attempts by foreign actors to influence Europe.

“As for the actors, the foreign actors and foreign forces, we are clearly mentioning Russia and China and we have sufficient evidence to do such a declaration,” Jourova told a news conference.

She said the next fake news front was vaccination, citing a study showing that Germans’ willingness to be vaccinated had fallen by 20 percentage points in two months.

The Commission said online platforms should provide monthly reports with details on their actions to promote authoritative content and to limit coronavirus disinformation and advertising related to it.

Jourova also said Chinese video app TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, will be joining the bloc’s voluntary code of conduct to combat fake news on its platform. Signatories to the code of conduct include Google, Facebook, Twitter and Mozilla.

The EU executive plans to counter foreign actors by stepping up its communication strategy and diplomacy, and provide more support to free and independent media, fact checkers and researchers.

In a formal statement, High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell said: “Disinformation in times of the coronavirus can kill. We have a duty to protect our citizens by making them aware of false information, and expose the actors responsible for engaging in such practices. In today’s technology-driven world, where warriors wield keyboards rather than swords and targeted influence operations and disinformation campaigns are a recognised weapon of state and non-state actors, the European Union is increasing its activities and capacities in this fight.”

Vice-President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová said: “Disinformation waves have hit Europe during the Coronavirus pandemic. They originated from within as well as outside the EU. To fight disinformation, we need to mobilise all relevant players from online platforms to public authorities, and support independent fact checkers and media. While online platforms have taken positive steps during the pandemic, they need to step up their efforts. Our actions are strongly embedded in fundamental rights, in particular freedom of expression and information.”

Reuters / European Commission


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