The European Commission on Tuesday called on social media giants including Facebook and Google to take stronger action against disinformation ahead of EU-wide elections in May.
It would be recalled that in September, 2018, Facebook, Google, Mozilla and Twitter signed up to a voluntary EU code of conduct to tackle fake news online.
At the time, the commission warned that it could introduce binding rules if the voluntary measures do not go far enough.
The companies have made some progress, the commission on Tuesday said in its first assessment of measures taken.
But it warned that additional action is needed ahead of this year’s European Parliament elections.
“We are stepping up a pace on all fronts to ensure free and fair elections,” said EU Justice Commissioner, Vera Jourova.
“I expect companies will fully follow on their rhetoric and commitment.”
Among other things, the commission called on Facebook to provide consumer empowerment tools and cooperation with fact-checkers in more than just a handful of member states and asks Google to make its tools to fight disinformation more widely available.
The EU executive also asked Twitter and Mozilla for more detail on their plans to tackle fake news.
“We don’t want to wake up the day after the elections and realise we should have done more,” said Julian King, the Commissioner Responsible for Security Issues.
On Monday, Facebook’s chief lobbyist Nick Clegg announced plans to increase electoral transparency in Europe from March, by showing, who had paid for any political advertising and keeping the ads in a public database for up to seven years, among other things.
King welcomed the plans but stressed the need for any such initiatives to be in place before EU election campaigns gear up in earnest.
The EU code of conduct commits companies to actions such as flagging political advertising, closing fake accounts, helping people make informed decisions and disrupting advertising revenues for accounts and websites that misrepresent information.
Fears are rife that third parties, such as Russia, may try to influence voters ahead of this year’s EU elections, with a view to boosting populist, Eurosceptic parties.
Member states have also been asked to assign a contact person for an EU rapid alert system aimed at shutting down disinformation.
Twelve of the bloc’s 28 member states have not yet done so, the commission said.
The commission is due to issue monthly reports on the progress made by social media giants until the European elections and will conduct an overall review once the code of conduct has been in place for a year, to see whether legislative steps are needed.
Other EU measures to fight fake news include setting up a network of fact-checkers and researchers, introducing new technologies to detect and counter false information and more than doubling the EU’s strategic communication budget.
EU negotiators have also agreed in principle on plans to fine political parties that misuse private data to influence elections.