Europe says Twitter must do more to combat disinformation—and Americans also back the fight

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By September, Twitter will have to be in line with tough new European rules governing—among other things—online disinformation. Twitter will have to demonstrate how it’s fighting disinformation on its service and, if it fails, it could be fined up to 6% of global revenues. We know this is all good with CEO Elon Musk because the man himself said last May that the incoming Digital Services Act (DSA) was “exactly aligned” with his thinking.

So Musk must be terribly disappointed to see that his company has flunked its first EU disinformation test. Last year, all the big social media firms voluntarily signed up to a code of practice on disinformation, and this morning they published their first reports on what they’re doing to fight the scourge. Twitter’s report did not impress the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, which will be directly enforcing the DSA beginning later this year.

“I am disappointed to see that Twitter report lags behind others and I expect a more serious commitment to their obligations stemming from the Code [of practice],” said Věra Jourová, the Commission’s transparency chief. “Russia is engaged also in a full-blown disinformation war and the platforms need to live up to their responsibilities.”

“It comes as no surprise that the degree of quality [of the reports varies] greatly according to the resources companies have allocated to this project,” sniped Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton. “It is in the interest of all signatories to abide by their commitment to fully implement the Code of practice against disinformation, in anticipation of the obligations under the Digital Services Act.”

Specifically, the Commission said the report that Twitter produced was “short of data”—just compare its many empty fields with Google’s comprehensive offering—and included “no information on commitments to empower the fact-checking community.” The Commission clearly wasn’t satisfied with the part of the report that sang the praises of Community Notes, the feature that lets Twitter users add context to potentially misleading tweets; Twitter insisted this was “an inherently scalable and localized response to the challenge of disinformation.”

The DSA will also force Twitter to give vetted researchers access to data that will help them analyze “online systemic risks.” In its disinformation report, Twitter made many references to its “industry-leading API program,” which researchers have for years been using to probe its data—but Twitter is in the process of revamping that program. As I wrote earlier this week, the changes could threaten researchers’ access to Twitter’s data. Thanks to the firm’s current allergy to clear communications, researchers don’t know for sure how serious the threat to their work is, but many are assuming the worst.

It’s clear that Europe’s top regulators are already deeply annoyed at Twitter’s will-this-do approach to the disinformation challenge, which could spell serious trouble down the road. But don’t think this is just a European concern.

A team of German, British, and Dutch researchers said yesterday that Americans are also keen on disinformation being taken down from social media—substantial majorities of U.S. survey respondents said they favored the deletion of posts including climate-change denial, Holocaust denial, election denial, and anti-vaccination content.

“Our results show that so-called free-speech absolutists such as Elon Musk are out of touch with public opinion,” said study co-author Stephan Lewandowsky, of the University of Bristol. “People by and large recognize that there should be limits to free speech, namely, when it can cause harm.”

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David Meyer

Data Sheet’s daily news section was written and curated by Andrea Guzman. 


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