Meta under fire from European Union for not doing enough about election disinformation

LONDON (AP) — The European Union said Tuesday that it’s investigating Facebook and Instagram for suspected violations of the bloc’s digital rulebook, including not doing enough to protect users from foreign disinformation ahead of EU-wide elections.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said it’s opening formal proceedings into whether parent company Meta Platforms breached the Digital Services Act, a sweeping set of regulations designed to protect internet users and clean up social media platforms under threat of hefty fines worth up to 6% of annual revenue.

European authorities are scrambling to safeguard elections amid official warnings that Russia is seeking to meddle with the vote in June, when citizens of the bloc’s 27 nations pick lawmakers for the European Parliament.

The investigation includes an urgent request for Meta to provide information about its move to discontinue a key tool for monitoring elections.

“We have a well established process for identifying and mitigating risks on our platforms,” Meta said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing our cooperation with the European Commission and providing them with further details of this work.”

Meta is being scrutinized “for suspected breach of DSA obligations to protect integrity of elections,” European Commissioner Thierry Breton said in a social media post.

The Commission said it’s looking into whether Meta is doing enough to curb the spread of “deceptive advertisements, disinformation campaigns and coordinated inauthentic behaviour” that could pose a risk to “electoral processes” and consumer protection.

Officials said they suspected Meta’s content moderation system for advertisements was inadequate, allowing ads made with generative AI including deepfakes to exploited by malicious foreign actors seeking to meddle in elections even as the company makes money from them.

Experts worry that new generative AI systems could be used to disrupt the many elections being held around the world this year, by supercharging the ability to spread disinformation at scale.

The EU also suspects that Facebook and Instagram might be reducing the visibility in recommendation feeds of political content from accounts that pump out a lot of it – a practice known as shadowbanning – and not being transparent about it with users, which would violate the DSA.

A third concern is Meta’s decision to phase out Crowdtangle, a tool used by researchers, journalists and civil society groups for real-time monitoring of trending social media posts including during elections. The Commission is giving Meta five days to respond with information on how it will remedy the lack of such a tool.

The Commission is also investigating whether Meta’s mechanism for users to flag illegal content is good enough under the DSA, because it suspects it’s neither easy to access nor user-friendly.

Brussels has been cracking down on tech companies since the DSA took effect last year, opening investigations into social media sites TikTok and X and ecommerce platform AliExpress. TikTok bowed to EU pressure last week and halted a reward feature on its new app after the Commission started demanding answers about it.

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