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Thursday, February 28, 2019

EU demands social media do more in tackling disinformation

The Guardian reports on the EU Commission's dissatisfaction at attempts by Facebook, Twitter and Google to tackle the well-documented problems with the use of their data, and their deep concern that elections to the European parliament in May could be the target of manipulation in a similar manner to the US presidential election and the UK’s Brexit referendum.

The Commission say that Facebook has repeatedly withheld key data on its alleged efforts to clamp down on disinformation ahead of the European elections. Commissioners want “hard numbers” to prove that the company is living up to promises made in a voluntary code of conduct.

They have also complained that the world’s largest social network had, despite its pledges, only set up “fact checkers” with the job of scrutinising information shared on the site, in eight of the EU’s 28 member states:

Under the EU code, the web firms are encouraged to disrupt revenue for accounts and sites misrepresenting information, clamp down on fake accounts and bots, and give prominence to more reliable sources of news while improving the transparency of funding of political advertising.

EU sources said the sector was not raising its game but that Facebook was by far the worst offender of those being assessed, offering only “patchy” information on its efforts. “It is very difficult for us to see if they are doing what they should be doing,” said a source.

The EU’s security commissioner, Sir Julian King, and digital economy commissioner, Mariya Gabriel, writing in the Guardian ahead of publication of the progress report, warn that the companies have only “fallen further behind” since last month’s first report.

They said: “The results last time fell short of expectations – so we called on the platforms to go further and faster in their efforts to tackle disinformation. Sadly, despite some progress, rather than improve, they have fallen further behind. The lack of hard numbers is particularly worrying.

“Facebook has again failed to provide all necessary information, including any data on its actions in January on scrutiny of ad placements or efforts to disrupt advertising and monetisation incentives for those behind disinformation.”

The EU’s executive arm, which is threatening to bring in regulation on disinformation unless the social media companies fall into line, added that it welcomed Facebook’s recent decision to “share more information about political advertising on its platform with so-called ‘good faith’ researchers and organisations working on increasing transparency for the public”.

But “they still need to live up to the standards we are asking of them – and that they signed up to”, the commissioners warned. “It is vital that the platforms treat EU member states equally, and ensure that any relevant tools are available across the Union.”

It noted that Facebook had fact-checking partners “in only eight member states covering seven languages”.

What is clear is that if these social media companies are to be brought to heel and made more transparent then it will be far more effective if that action is taken by a multi-national body like the EU.

A single nation like the UK will come up against many more obstacles and will not have the clout needed to get US authorities to act in the event of non-compliance. This is another good reason to stay in the European Community.
How dare those unelected dictators in Brussels interfere with our right to have our democratic processes subverted by our American friends, who have been generous enough to build a headquarters in London!

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