The European Union has been urged to force Google, Twitter and other social media platforms to identify the “malign actors” who spread fake news and disinformation on the internet.
Former Scottish Labour MEP Catherine Stihler, who is now chief executive of the Open Knowledge Foundation, said the EU had to “work harder” at combating the flow of false information which, she said, is undermining voters’ trust in democratic institutions.
In a letter to the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Ms Stihler calls for action to be ‘prioritised’ regarding online platforms which fail to do enough to tackle disinformation.
A recent European Commission report in the wake of May’s European elections found "evidence of coordinated inauthentic behaviour aimed at spreading divisive material on online platforms, including through the use of bots and fake accounts".
It highlighted tactics used by countries’ internal and external actors ‘in particular linked to Russian sources’ and said that while all online platforms, and Facebook in particular, had “made progress with regard to the transparency of political advertising... Google and Twitter need to catch up in this regard.”
Fake news and hate-filled messages about immigration and Islam were circulated widely on social media in the run up to the European elections, which campaigners said underscored the limits of efforts by policymakers and companies to manage disinformation.
Ms Stihler said that “no sufficient progress has been made” and added: ““Words are not enough in this battle to build a fair, free and open future.
“It is essential that the European Commission prioritises action regarding online platforms that fail to do enough to tackle disinformation or do not fulfil promises made.
“I firmly believe the institutions of the European Union must use their influence to force online platforms to provide more detailed information allowing the identification of malign actors, put pressure on Google and Twitter to increase transparency, and encourage closer working with fact checkers to prevent the spread of disinformation.
“The best way to tackle disinformation is to make information open, allowing journalists, developers and the research community to carry out analysis of disinformation operations. With upcoming national elections across the EU, this is of paramount importance to help rebuild trust in politics and build a fair, free and open future.”
The EU has launched an action plan to counter disinformation beyond focusing on improving detection, analysis and exposure of disinformation, stronger cooperation and joint responses to threats and enhancing collaboration with online platforms and industry to tackle disinformation and improve societal resilience.