Big Tech makes concessions on EU’s new anti-disinformation code

The world’s biggest technology companies are set to sign up to an updated version of the EU’s anti-disinformation code, with European countries pushing for ways to target more effectively groups that spread propaganda and fake news through online platforms.

Facebook, Twitter, Google, Microsoft and TikTok are among those preparing to join the bloc’s new regime, having made key concessions on the data they are willing to share with individual countries on efforts to tackle disinformation.

The move represents the latest effort to rein in the power of Big Tech companies, with the EU at the forefront of a global regulatory pushback on internet platforms that have become crucial to how billions of people receive news and information.

According to a confidential report seen by the Financial Times, an updated “code of practice on disinformation” will force tech platforms to disclose how they are removing, blocking or curbing harmful content in advertising and in the promotion of content.

Online platforms will have to counter “harmful disinformation” by developing tools and partnerships with fact-checkers that may include taking down propaganda, but also the inclusion of “indicators of trustworthiness” on independently verified information on issues like the war in Ukraine and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Crucially, big tech groups will also be forced to provide a country-by-country breakdown of their efforts, rather than providing just global or Europe-wide data as they currently do.

That move has previously been resisted by tech companies, but national regulators have demanded more specific data so they can better target those spreading disinformation within individual countries.

Věra Jourová, the EU’s vice-president for values and transparency in charge of the code, said that “to respond to disinformation effectively, there is a need for country- and language-specific data. We know disinformation is different in every country, and the big platforms will now have to provide meaningful data that would allow to understand better the situation on the country level.”

A voluntary code was first introduced in 2018, but an updated version is set to be published on Thursday, with 30 signatories including big tech companies and civil society groups.

Jourová said the Kremlin’s propaganda drive following the invasion of Ukraine had added urgency to discussions to strengthen the code. “Russia’s actions have informed to shape the anti-disinformation code,” she said. “Once the code is operational, we will be better prepared to address disinformation, also coming from Russia.”

The code will gain added weight in future, as it will be enforced through the Digital Services Act, a landmark piece of legislation that will force Big Tech to police their platforms more aggressively for illegal content. Groups that break the rules will face fines of up to 6 per cent of global turnover.

Thierry Breton, the internal market commissioner, said the threat of heavy fines gave “legal backbone” to the updated anti-disinformation code.

The new requirements will force tech companies to provide other detailed data such as the number of bots removed, the artificial intelligence systems deployed to weed out fake news and the number of content moderators deployed per country.

Platforms will also have to set tools to “identify and flag disinformation disseminated” through their services and explore ways to integrate a flagging system within their systems, the draft said.

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