Facebook and Twitter told us they would tackle ‘fake news’. They failed | Julian King and Mariya Gabriel

Tech giants signed up to our EU code to counter disinformation – but with key elections looming, they are falling short

As a society, we are increasingly using the internet as our prime source of information – a recent survey showed that 57% of Europeans get their news mainly from online platforms.

That gives those platforms a privileged role in our daily lives – a role with significant responsibilities, all the more so as the spread of disinformation is facilitated by some of their business models. Unfortunately, they do not always live up to these responsibilities.

One such duty is to fight the threat of disinformation, especially in view of the forthcoming European parliament elections in May.

As commissioners, we have been leading the European Union’s work to counter this threat over the past year. We have been working with platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter, all of which signed up to a voluntary code of practice – the first of its kind – in September.

They need to live up to their commitments under the code by improving their efforts in areas such as how adverts are placed online; transparency around sponsored content; the rapid and effective identification and deletion of fake accounts; clearer rules around bots; the more effective promotion of alternative narratives and greater clarity around algorithms.

This is not a task that can be put off until tomorrow – with the European elections weeks away, every second counts, and the time for action is now.

We have committed to ensure regular monitoring of compliance with the commitments stemming from the code. Last month we assessed the progress the platforms had made in its implementation until the end of 2018. Now we are shifting to a cycle of monthly reports from Facebook, Google and Twitter, with the results from January being published today.

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, 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. Twitter, too, failed to report on any additional efforts in January to improve ad placement, or information on the implementation of its Ads Transparency Center in the EU.

Google has fared slightly better, reporting on scrutiny of ad placement, its new policy for election ads and its dedicated teams to prevent election-related abuse of its services; but other information, such as data on enforcement of its policies, is still lacking.

Some progress has been made – in recent weeks Facebook has announced it will 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. It is vital that the platforms treat EU member states equally and ensure any relevant tools to carry out this process are available across the Union. Facebook, for example, has fact-checking partners in only eight EU countries covering seven languages.

All these tools need to made available in good time – the sooner they can be rolled out the better. Google’s January reporting shows that country-by-country analyses are powerful indicators of where action is most needed.

So we call on the platforms to redouble their efforts. It’s in their own interests, not least because the next generation of Europeans, increasingly aware of disinformation, might not take too kindly to a perceived lack of input.

We will look again at their progress next month, when we expect to see significant improvement. But this is not an issue that will disappear after May – in the EU, there is an election every week. So we will return to this later this year, and if we do not see sufficient long-term progress, we reserve the right to reconsider our policy options – including possible regulation.

It’s not a path we want to take at this stage. But we are determined to do what it takes to protect our democratic processes and to safeguard our common values.

Sir Julian King is commissioner for the security union, and Mariya Gabriel is commissioner for digital economy and society

Julian King and Mariya Gabriel

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Could this EU crackdown on fake news be a gamechanger? | Paul Chadwick
The new EU code of practice on disinformation indicates progress has been made, says Paul Chadwick, the Guardian’s readers’ editor

Paul Chadwick

30, Sep, 2018 @6:00 PM

Article image
EU gives Facebook and Google three months to tackle extremist content
Commission says internet companies also including YouTube and Twitter need to show progress on issue or face legislation

Samuel Gibbs

01, Mar, 2018 @2:42 PM

Article image
Social media spying is turning us into a stalking society | Keza MacDonald
Facebook, Twitter and others must act on misuse and abuse or face the ongoing “techlash”, says the Guardian’s games editor, Kez MacDonald

Keza MacDonald

13, Feb, 2018 @3:58 PM

Article image
The EU’s plan to rein in Facebook and Google will do exactly the opposite | Carlos Fernandes
The proposed shake-up to copyright law will only entrench the dominance of tech giants. There are other, better ways, says Carlos Fernandes

Carlos Fernandes

09, Mar, 2019 @10:00 AM

Article image
In the new robopolitics, social media has left newspapers for dead | Damian Tambini
Much of the success of the Brexit and Trump campaigns was due to Twitter, Facebook and co. Who needs mainstream media when you’ve got algorithms?

Damian Tambini

18, Nov, 2016 @9:17 AM

Article image
Online politics needs to be cleaned up – but not just by Facebook and Twitter | Lisa-Maria Neudert and Phil Howard
Social media platforms do have a role to play, but real change requires political parties to take responsibility, say Lisa-Maria Neudert and Phil Howard of the Oxford Technology and Elections Commission

Lisa-Maria Neudert and Phil Howard

11, Nov, 2019 @3:15 PM

Article image
Social media is a bad feelings machine. Why can’t we just turn it off for good? | Sirin Kale
I owe my career to Twitter, but two years reporting on the pandemic has made me realise disinformation costs lives, says Guardian journalist Sirin Kale

Sirin Kale

27, Dec, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
Online abuse of disabled people is getting worse – when will it be taken seriously? | Frances Ryan
New research shows the extent of this depressing trend. Social media platforms and MPs have to get a grip of it, says Guardian columnist Frances Ryan

Frances Ryan

10, May, 2019 @6:00 AM

Article image
Katie Price is right. Disabled people shouldn’t be forced off the internet by abuse | Gaby Hinsliff
If the social media giants can’t prevent abuse, then parliament should protect minority groups, says Guardian columnist Gaby Hinsliff

Gaby Hinsliff

22, Jan, 2019 @11:05 AM

Article image
The tech giants dominated the decade. But there’s still time to rein them in | Jay Owens
Google, Amazon and Facebook moved at a scale and speed governments couldn’t match. Now regulators are trying to catch up, says writer and researcher Jay Owens

Jay Owens

25, Dec, 2019 @1:00 PM