Globally recognised technology companies behind some of the world’s biggest tech platforms we enjoy today have now signed up a new EU rulebook for tackling online disinformation. These tech companies include Meta, Microsoft, Google, Twitter, Twitch, and TikTok.
Together these firms and others will have to input efforts in curbing the spread of fake news and propaganda across their platforms. The rulebook also includes them sharing more granular data on their work with EU member states. The European Commission announced the new “Code of Practice on disinformation,” stating that the guidelines are been motivated particularly by “lessons learnt from the COVID19 crisis and Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine.”
The Commission’s vice president for values and transparency, Věra Jourová in a press statement disclosed that “This new anti-disinformation Code comes at a time when Russia is weaponising disinformation as part of its military aggression against Ukraine, but also when we see attacks on democracy more broadly.”
The new code of practice highlights 44 specific “commitments” for these tech companies, all targeted at an array of potential harms from disinformation. Some of these commitments include:
- Creating searchable libraries for political adverts
- Demonetize fake news sites by cutting off their advertising revenue
- Reduce the number of bot networks and fake accounts used to spread disinformation
- Give users access to tools to flag misinformation and access “authoritative sources”
- Give researchers “better and wider access to platforms’ data”
- Work closely with independent fact-checkers to verify information sources.
Although tech firms based in the US like Meta and Twitter have already adopted similar initiatives following pressure from politicians and regulators, the European Union claims that the new code of practice will give a greater oversight into these operations and stronger enforcement.
Despite the gravity of the subject matter, there were still absences of notable tech giants from the list of signatories. Apple, for example, is yet to sign up, despite its burgeoning advertising business and the code’s focus on curbing sources of disinformation by cutting off ads. Another tech giant also absent is Telegram, a major playground for propaganda following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Although the predecessor for these guidelines, 2018’s Code of Practice on Disinformation, was entirely voluntary, the EU notes that this new rulebook will be enforced by its new Digital Services Act or DSA. EU’s commissioner for the internal market, Thierry Breton, in a press statement noted that “To be credible, the new Code of Practice will be backed up by the DSA — including for heavy dissuasive sanctions.” Breton further disclosed that “Very large platforms that repeatedly break the Code and do not carry out risk mitigation measures properly risk fines of up to 6% of their global turnover.” Sanctions may also include banning companies from Europe Breton added that “If there is the consistent flouting of the rules, we can also think about stopping their access to our space of information,” The EU is presenting the code as a strong deterrent against misinformation with clear methods of enforcement, it’s worth remembering how difficult it is to even gauge the impact of disinformation, let alone curb its negative impacts.
The companies that have signed up for the new EU rulebook for tackling online disinformation have six months to comply with their pledges and will have to present a progress report at the beginning of 2023.
Critics such as the Association of Commercial Television and Video on Demand Services in Europe (ACT) have pointed out that there were grave shortcomings in the revised Code. “The Review does not offer concrete commitments to limit ‘impermissible manipulative behaviour’. Commitments go no further than a blanket statement to follow the law which is obvious and does not require a Code,” it said.