With a pledge to work together with tech and advertising companies, Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc., are ready to fight the spread of “fake news” online in Europe in order to prevent it from being maligned in the upcoming political elections. It is an ad-hoc alliance comprising Mozilla Corp. and advertising business organizations.
This group presented a code of conduct to their executive body, the European Commission in response to The EU’s call in April for web platforms and social media firms to present a plan on ways to curtail misinformation online and about regulations in case that fails.
On Wednesday, Mariya Gabriel, European digital commissioner, commended the code of conduct as a step in the right direction. She also urged platforms to reinforce more efforts, adding that the commission would “pay particular attention to its effective implementation.” The commission talked about analyzing the first results of the code at the year-end after which it could still propose a regulation in case of unsatisfactory results.
Extensive pressure from lawmakers in the U.S. and Europe against tech companies over Russia’s involvement in spreading fabrication across the platforms to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the U.K.’s Brexit vote, has resulted in this proposal. EU officials hope to prevent or minimize a repeat of a problem ahead of EU elections next spring.
Tech companies have come under fire by conservatives in the U.S. for bias. They have stated that they are attempting to efficiently tackle the problem in a way that would not restrict freedom of expression. The social media and internet companies have also come under the scrutiny of regulators and lawmakers in the U.S. and EU over their way of handling users’ data.
According to the new plan, the firms will invest in products, technologies, and programs that help people in Europe make informed decisions when they encounter probable fake news online. They will help prioritize authentic information in search rankings or news feeds while making visible diverse perspectives. As part of the agreement, the companies agreed to support efforts to develop indicators of trustworthiness in collaboration with news organizations.
Policies with the aim of preventing the advertising and spread of misinformation were also committed to. Restricting ad services for parties that consistently misrepresent themselves online can be one way to do that. The companies also agreed that in certain circumstances they would help advertisers monitor placement of ads and choose where ads get placed.
However, a “sounding board” group including news, media and consumer associations, which was assigned to assess the tech firms’ action plan, stated that the code contained “no clear and meaningful commitments, no measurable objectives, hence no possibility to monitor process”. They called on the EU to closely monitor the situation.
The tech firms plan to publish annual reports about their plans and performance, which is to be submitted to an independent third party for review. Voluntary commitments would be open to other companies to sign and could be updated in the future.
The large tech firms have already circulated measures aiming at tackling misinformation on their platforms and providing more transparency around the political nature of certain ads. For instance, Google and Facebook forbid fake accounts or false identity claims by a group or business, and demote content deemed to be misinformation. Twitter, too, disallows impersonation and forbids developers from using automated bots to spam users or send them unsolicited messages.