Google, Facebook and Twitter will be required to give monthly updates to the EU on tackling fake news from Russia in the lead-up to the 2019 EU elections, European regulators said Wednesday.
Lawmakers threatened the companies with further restrictions if they fail to live up to the commitments agreed to earlier this year around disinformation.
“We cannot allow the internet to become a Wild West where anything goes — and we will reconsider our options, including regulation, if not enough progress is being made by the platforms on disinformation,” EU Commissioner for the Security Union Julian King said during a press conference.
Announced as part of the bloc’s “Action Plan on Disinformation,” the new reporting requirements will kick in next month and the EU plans on making the details public to raise awareness among voters ahead of May’s vote.
The EU insists that companies that signed its Code of Practice on Disinformation live up to those promises and provide the Commission with a full account of how they plan to implement the code by the year's end — before the monthly reporting requirements start in January.
“The signatories of the Code of Practice should swiftly and effectively implement the commitments made under the Code of Practice, focusing on actions that are urgent for the European elections in 2019,” the EU said in a statement.
“No more excuses, no more foot-dragging. We need to see urgent improvements,” King added.
The companies will have to pay particular attention to key areas, including transparency in political advertising, closing active fake accounts, clearly labeling bot accounts and cooperating with fact-checkers and academic researchers to detect disinformation campaigns.
While some of the major companies have taken steps to tackle these issues already, critics and lawmakers say their efforts do not go far enough.
So far just four companies have signed up to the Code of Practice: Google, Facebook, Twitter and Mozilla. None immediately responded to a request for comment on the new regulations.
The new demands placed on U.S. tech firms are just the latest push by European lawmakers to hold tech companies to account on issues ranging from privacy concerns to antitrust allegations.
The regulators singled out Russia as the primary threat, saying the Action Plan calls for closer cooperation in order to tackle the problem
“There is strong evidence pointing to Russia as a primary source of disinformation in Europe. Disinformation is part of Russia’s military doctrine and its strategy to divide and weaken the West,” Andrus Ansip, vice president responsible for the Digital Single Market, said at a press conference announcing the plan. “Russia spends €1.1 billion a year on pro-Kremlin media.”
The demands placed on online platforms are just one part of the effort to prevent disinformation from damaging the critical vote in 2019. It also includes the creation of a dedicated Rapid Alert System that will link EU institutions and member states.
This will help facilitate the sharing of data and assessments of disinformation campaigns and to provide alerts on those threats in real time. In a bid to counter the disinformation, the EU will also focus on communicating the values and policies of the bloc.
Cover image: European Commissioner for the Security Union Julian King at a press conference on securing free and fair elections and countering terrorism online and offline in Brussels, Belgium on September 13, 2018. (Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)