EU wants tech giants to do more to counter virus fake news

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European Commissioner for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova addresses a joint online press conference with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell following a weekly College of Commissioners meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, June 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, Pool)

BRUSSELS – A senior European Union official warned online platforms like Google and Facebook on Wednesday to step up the fight against fake news coming notably from countries like China and Russia, but she praised the approach of Twitter for fact-checking a tweet by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Unveiling a plan to fight disinformation linked to the coronavirus, European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova said she wants online tech companies to provide far more detailed reports each month than currently on the action they are taking to prevent a fake news “infodemic.”

The EU commission said that “foreign actors and certain third countries, in particular Russia and China" are flooding Europe with “targeted influence operations and disinformation campaigns.” It cited dangerous misinformation like claims that drinking bleach can cure the disease and that washing hands does not help prevent its spread.

“I’m afraid the disinformation flow will continue," Jourova said, adding that vaccination seems to be the next big topic subject to misinformation. She cited a study showing "that the willingness in Germany to take up vaccination decreased by almost 20 percentage points in less than two months.”

The virus has infected 7.2 million people worldwide and killed nearly 412,000, about 180,000 of them in Europe, according to official figures tallied by Johns Hopkins University. The true toll is believed to be much higher because many people died without being tested.

Jourova praised those U.S. digital giants that agreed to extra scrutiny under a voluntary code of practice aimed at halting the spread of disinformation linked to the virus, but she told reporters that this is just a first step and that “there is room for improvement.”

“They have to open up and offer more evidence that the measures they have taken are working well. They also have to enable the public to identify new threats independently. We invite them now to provide monthly reports with more granular information than ever before,” Jourova said.

She noted that short-video app TikTok would soon sign up to the disinformation code of practice, launched in 2018.