Resist Russian disinformation as elections loom, EU tells Big Tech

By Foo Yun Chee

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova on Tuesday urged Alphabet’s Google, Microsoft, Meta Platforms and TikTok to do more to tackle what she called Russia’s “multi-million euro weapon of mass manipulation” ahead of elections in Europe.

Jourova also singled out Elon Musk’s X social platform, saying it had the largest ratio of fake news posts of the larger platforms.

Concerns have mounted in recent months about a spate of disinformation related to parliamentary elections in Slovakia on Sept. 30 and Poland next month as well as European Parliament elections next year.

The companies and other online platforms have submitted data on their activity in the last six months to fight fake news as part of the EU code of practice on disinformation.

“The Russian state has engaged in the war of ideas to pollute our information space with half-truth and lies to create a false image that democracy is no better than autocracy,” she told a press conference.

“Today, this is a multi-million euro weapon of mass manipulation …

“The ‘very large platforms’ must address this risk. Especially as we have to expect that the Kremlin and others will be active before elections.”

After the last European Parliament elections in 2019, Russia’s Security Council described accusations that Moscow had spread disinformation to sway voters as absurd.

Last February, Yevgeny Prigozhin, late head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, acknowledged having founded the Internet Research Agency, which Washington says is a disinformation “farm” that meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Jourova had a warning for X, which quit the EU’s voluntary code in May but under its Digital Services Act (DSA) counts as a “very large online platform”, subject to stricter content rules.

“Mr (Elon) Musk knows that he is not off the hook by leaving the code of practice because now we have the Digital Services Act fully enforced. So my message for Twitter is you have to comply with the hard law and we will be watching what you are doing,” she said.

Russia for its part has clamped down on Western social media platforms after tightening censorship since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, and found Facebook-owner Meta guilty of “extremist activity” in March 2022.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Ros Russell)