European flags wave in front of the Berlaymont building—the European Commission (EC) headquarter—in Brussels, Belgium. EC commissioners have cited a lack of progress by Google, Facebook, and Twitter on measures to stop disinformation operations associated with European elections.

Enlarge / European flags wave in front of the Berlaymont building—the European Commission (EC) headquarter—in Brussels, Belgium. EC commissioners have cited a lack of progress by Google, Facebook, and Twitter on measures to stop disinformation operations associated with European elections. (credit: Michele Spatari/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Last October, in an attempt to fend off additional regulation, advertising trade organizations and major Internet platform providers—including Google, Facebook, and Twitter—signed off on a voluntary code of conduct aimed at reducing the threat posed by fraudulently purchased political advertisements and the posting of "fake news" articles. But a report released by the European Commission today called the social media platforms to task for not living up to those voluntary measures to help protect upcoming elections across Europe in the next few months—and particularly the European Parliament elections in May.

In a joint statement issued by the European Commission, Vice President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip; Commissioner for Justice, Consumers, and Gender Equality Věra Jourová; Commissioner for the Security Union Julian King; and Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society Mariya Gabriel wrote:

[W]e need to see more progress on the commitments made by online platforms to fight disinformation. Platforms have not provided enough details showing that new policies and tools are being deployed in a timely manner and with sufficient resources across all EU Member States. The reports provide too little information on the actual results of the measures already taken.

Finally, the platforms have failed to identify specific benchmarks that would enable the tracking and measurement of progress in the EU. The quality of the information provided varies from one signatory of the Code to another depending on the commitment areas covered by each report. This clearly shows that there is room for improvement for all signatories... We urge Facebook, Google and Twitter to do more across all Member States to help ensure the integrity of the European Parliament elections in May 2019. We also encourage platforms to strengthen their cooperation with fact-checkers and academic researchers to detect disinformation campaigns and make fact-checked content more visible and widespread.

The EC report specifically called out each of the major social media platforms for specific failures. Facebook was cited for not providing details of its efforts to scrutinize political advertisement placement, which the company said it began in January. Facebook had also promised a Europe-wide archive for political and issue advertising, to be available by March 2019. And while Facebook’s reports to the EC thus far have given details on “cases of interference from third countries in EU Member States,” the commissioners said, it does not provide the number of fake accounts removed due to “malicious activities targeting specifically the European Union.”

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