Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge
The EU is stepping up efforts to combat online disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic, requesting that US tech giants produce monthly reports containing “detailed data” on how they are combatting fake news about COVID-19 on their platforms.
Google, Facebook, and Twitter are the prime targets of this campaign, and the three companies told The Verge they would be complying with the EU’s requests. Exactly what steps they will take, though, and when they might start producing reports is unknown.
The EU is worried that misinformation surrounding the coronavirus could prolong the effects of the pandemic. This is a particular problem with the anti-vaccine movement, which has an outsized influence online and will likely rally against any future COVID-19 vaccine. Scientist say a vaccine is necessary for countries around the world to return to normal, but many nations are easing lockdown measures anyway, inviting a second wave of infections.
While additional information on COVID-19 misinformation could help coordinate responses across the tech industry, it’s not clear if the EU’s request will produce that useful data.
For a start, tech giants are not legally required to produce these new monthly reports. There’s also no guidance on exactly what the reports should contain, and companies The Verge spoke to said they were still working out what information to include.
The request is also not part of the EU’s voluntary Code of Practice on Disinformation, which requires signatories like Google, Facebook, and Twitter to “report on a monthly basis on their actions undertaken to improve the scrutiny of ad placements, ensure transparency of political and issue-based advertising and to tackle fake accounts and malicious use of bots.”
A representative for the EU told The Verge the program would be launched “without delays” and that detailed timings would soon be made public. The EU has told tech companies it would rather the data was comprehensive than rushed, and it’s likely the format will be similar to reports produced to tackle misinformation about the 2019 EU elections.
Spokespersons for Google, Facebook, and Twitter, told The Verge they supported the EU’s efforts and had already stepped up plans to combat misinformation about the pandemic on their platforms. Facebook and Google said they were committed to producing new monthly reports, while Twitter said it was still considering how to present this information, but that it would be adding regular updates to its coronavirus misinformation blog.
“The global pandemic has shown that more people need more accurate information more than ever,” Matt Brittin, president of Google EMEA, told The Verge. “Through our cooperation with Vice-President Jourova and national authorities we know that working together, companies and policymakers can make more difference than working alone. We’re committed to the Code of Practice and to our work together to find new and creative ways to continue the fight against disinformation.”