EU probing Meta over rise in pro-Russia propaganda

  • The European Commission is opening proceedings to look into whether Meta has breached the Digital Services Act (DSA) on its social media platforms.
  • It is specifically looking into disinformation campaigns and increased pro-Russia sentiment on Facebook and Instagram.
  • The Commission is also concerned that Meta is shutting down its CrowdTangle and does not have a replacement earmarked yet.

Meta has once again come under scrutiny by the European Commission. This time the big tech firm is being investigated over how it is handling disinformation in the lead up to several key national elections in the region.

In particular it is being probed over the handling on coordinated campaigns and increasing pro-Russia sentiment which could infringe upon the rules outlined in the EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA), per Reuters.

“The suspected infringements cover Meta’s policies and practices relating to deceptive advertising and political content on its services. They also concern the non-availability of an effective third-party real-time civic discourse and election-monitoring tool ahead of the elections to the European Parliament, against the background of Meta’s deprecation of its real-time public insights tool CrowdTangle without an adequate replacement,” the EU outlined in a press release.

For those unfamiliar with CrowdTangle, it is an online tool leveraged by journalists and researchers to gauge trends and potential misinformation on platforms like Instagram and Facebook.

Therefore its shutdown, which is scheduled for 14th August this year, while no replacement tool or offering being made available, would of course be cause for concern given how critical social media platforms like these can be when it comes to sharing news and impacting public opinion.

Regarding pro-Russia sentiment and influence growing ahead of key elections this year, Commission president Ursula von der Leyen noted that, “This Commission has created means to protect European citizens from targeted disinformation and manipulation by third countries. If we suspect a violation of the rules, we act. This is true at all times, but especially in times of democratic elections. Big digital platforms must live up to their obligations to put enough resources into this and today’s decision shows that we are serious about compliance.”

“Protecting our democracies is a common fight with our Member States. Today in Prague I want to thank Prime Minister Fiala for his active role in raising the issue at European level, along with the triggering by Belgium of the emergency mechanism for exchange of information between Member States,” she added.

Whether the probe will be able to find anything concrete regarding pro-Russia influence, or indeed implement some sort of plan to limit it, remains to be seen, especially with only a few months to go before the nine parliamentary elections kick off across Europe.

In particular those in France, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and Spain, are seen as crucial given the power those respective nations wield.

“The opening of formal proceedings empowers the Commission to take further enforcement steps, such as interim measures, and non-compliance decisions. The Commission is also empowered to accept commitments made by Meta to remedy the issues raised in the proceedings. The DSA does not set any legal deadline for bringing formal proceedings to an end,” the release pointed out regarding the next steps.

“The duration of an in-depth investigation depends on several factors, including the complexity of the case, the extent to which the company concerned cooperates with the Commission and the exercise of the rights of defence,” it concluded.

With South Africans heading to the polls less than a month from now, it will be interesting to see if our own BRICS ties have had any influence on the outcome of the nation’s most important event for 2024.

[Image – Photo by Guillaume Périgois on Unsplash]


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