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EU urges tech giants to step up fight against fake news

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EU urges tech giants to step up fight against fake news

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(BRUSSELS) - The EU Commission called on tech giants including Google, Facebook and Twitter Tuesday to intensify their efforts to crack down on disinformation in the run up to the 2019 European elections.

The call followed submission by Google, Facebook, Twitter, Mozilla and trade associations representing the advertising sector of their first reports on measures they are taking to comply with the Code of Practice on Disinformation.

The Commission welcomed progress, notably in removing fake accounts and limiting the visibility of sites that promote disinformation. However, it added that additional action is needed to ensure full transparency of political ads by the start of the campaign for the European elections in all EU Member States, to allow appropriate access to platforms' data for research purposes, and to ensure proper cooperation between the platforms and individual Member States through contact points in the Rapid Alert System.

The EU executive says it is stepping up the pace to ensure free and fair elections, and expects companies to follow up on rhetoric and commitment.

"Today's reports rightly focus on urgent actions, such as taking down fake accounts," said the Commissioner for Digital Economy Mariya Gabriel: "It is a good start. Now I expect the signatories to intensify their monitoring and reporting and increase their cooperation with fact-checkers and research community. We need to ensure our citizens' access to quality and objective information allowing them to make informed choices".

According to the reports which cover measures taken by 31 December 2018, online companies' work is more advanced and comprehensive in some areas, for instance in taking down fake accounts and de-monetising the purveyors of disinformation, but less so in others. In particular, the reports show that:

  • Facebook has taken or is taking measures towards the implementation of all of the commitments but now needs to provide greater clarity on how the social network will deploy its consumer empowerment tools and boost cooperation with fact-checkers and the research community across the whole EU.
  • Google has taken steps to implement all its commitments, in particular those designed to improve the scrutiny of ad placements, transparency of political advertisement and providing users with information, tools and support to empower them in their online experience. However some tools are only available in a small number of Member States. The Commission also calls on the online search engine to support research actions on a wider scale.
  • Twitter has prioritised actions against malicious actors, closing fake or suspicious accounts and automated systems/bots. Still, more information is needed on how this will restrict persistent purveyors of disinformation from promoting their tweets.
  • Mozilla is about to launch an upgraded version of its browser to block cross-site tracking by default but the online browser should be more concrete on how this will limit the information revealed about users' browsing activities, which could potentially be used for disinformation campaigns.

The Commission says it now expects Google, Facebook, Twitter and Mozilla to develop a more systematic approach to enable a proper and regular monitoring and assessment, on the basis of appropriate performance data".

When it comes to the trade associations representing the advertising sector (World Federation of Advertisers, European Association of Communication Agencies and Interactive Advertising Bureau Europe), the Commission notes their positive efforts to raise awareness about the Code, but also notes the absence of corporate signatories and stresses the key role brands and advertisers play in the efforts to demonetise purveyors of disinformation.

Reports by the signatories of the Code of Practice

Factsheet: Action plan against disinformation

Communication on tackling online disinformation: a European approach

Code of Practice against disinformation - background guide

EU vs Disinformation website

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