The European Union (EU) has issued a stern warning to Elon Musk, urging him to adhere to new and comprehensive laws aimed at tackling the spread of fake news and Russian propaganda. This caution comes in the wake of revelations that X, formerly Twitter, has the highest ratio of disinformation posts among all major social media platforms.
A recent report delved deep into the world of disinformation on social media within the EU, shedding light on the magnitude of the fake news problem. Millions of fake accounts were removed by platforms such as TikTok and LinkedIn as part of these efforts.
Surprisingly, Facebook emerged as the second-worst offender, according to the inaugural report that catalogs posts that would be considered illegal across the EU under the Digital Services Act (DSA), which came into effect in August.
However, Facebook, along with tech giants like Google, TikTok, and Microsoft, voluntarily adopted a code of practice devised by the EU to ensure their readiness to operate within the new legal framework.
Twitter, on the other hand, chose to depart from the code of practice but remains obligated under the new legislation to comply with its provisions, or else face a potential ban across the EU.
Věra Jourová, the European Commissioner responsible for implementing the new anti-disinformation code, stated, "Mr. Musk knows he is not exempt from compliance by leaving the code of practice. There are obligations under the law. So my message to Twitter/X is clear: you must comply. We will closely monitor your actions."
She added, "X, formerly Twitter, has the highest ratio of misinformation/disinformation, followed by Facebook."
This comprehensive 200-page report provides an account of the efforts made by major platforms in the first half of 2023 to prepare for compliance with the new laws. It also sheds light on the behind-the-scenes endeavors of Facebook and others to combat Russian propaganda, hate speech, and other forms of disinformation.
Jourová emphasized, "The Russian state has engaged in a war of ideas to pollute our information space with half-truths and lies to create a false image that democracy is no better than autocracy."
Microsoft, the owner of LinkedIn, thwarted the creation of 6.7 million fake accounts and removed 24,000 pieces of fake content. Google's YouTube reported removing over 400 channels linked to coordinated influence operations tied to the Russian-state-sponsored Internet Research Agency.
TikTok eliminated nearly 6 million fake accounts and 410 unverifiable advertisements. In an effort to combat the spread of 'state-funded propaganda sites,' Google took proactive measures. It eliminated advertisements from more than 300 websites associated with such content and declined services to over 140,000 political advertisers who did not adhere to the required identification verification guidelines.
The report also highlighted Meta's expansion of fact-checking to include 26 partners covering 22 languages in the EU, now including Czech and Slovak. It revealed that 37% of users refrained from sharing content when notified of fake news, indicating the value consumers place on labeling disinformation.
The EU is particularly concerned about ongoing Russian propaganda on social media leading up to key elections in Slovakia and Poland. TikTok, recently fined €345 million (£300 million) for violating data protection rules concerning children, is also striving to comply with the DSA. Their fact-checks now encompass Russian, Ukrainian, and 17 other languages, along with a new partnership with the Reuters news agency.
The report noted that this network checked 832 videos related to the war in Ukraine, of which 211 were removed. Microsoft, another participant in the code of practice, informed the EU that it either promoted accurate information or downgraded questionable information in relation to 800,000 search queries about the war in Ukraine.
Jourová highlighted that the report provides evidence that Russia is engaged in a "war of ideas," and Kremlin disinformation remains prevalent across major platforms. She stressed that the Kremlin has targeted Slovakia more than Poland as fertile ground for sowing division and interfering with democracy.
Her message to major platforms included vigilance regarding elections, including those for the European Parliament next year, and the risk of disinformation. She described Kremlin propaganda as "a multimillion-euro weapon of mass manipulation aimed both internally at Russians and Europeans and the rest of the world. And we must address this. The very large platforms must address this risk."
While the war in Ukraine was the most frequent topic for propaganda, the platforms also reported hate speech related to migration, communities, and the climate crisis. Jourová noted, "I think one of the advantages of disinformation is that they are so predictable," making it easier for fact-checkers to identify. On Twitter, she observed that "disinformation actors were found to have significantly more followers than their non-disinformation counterparts and tend to have joined the platform more recently than non-disinformation users.