April 30, 2024

Today, the European Commission announced the opening of investigations against Meta’s platforms Facebook and Instagram, for suspected infringement of the Digital Services Act (DSA), especially regarding the spread of online disinformation and deceptive advertisement.

EU DisinfoLab welcomes this action:

The success of the Digital Services Act will be measured by how all large platforms address the recurrent failures pointed out by users, civil society, regulators, and media. It seems that such investigations and their potential consequences are the best avenue for meaningful measures and accountability.”

For our Executive Director, Alexandre Alaphilippe, “It is clearer than ever that voluntary commitments and declarations of intentions are not enough to comply with current European regulations. Failures from platforms (and not only Meta) to meaningfully address daily disinformation campaigns that keep abusing platforms’ policies and processes is putting European elections and democracy at imminent risk of being undermined by foreign interference, primarily Russian propaganda.”

The DSA entered into force in August 2023. Despite the exposures of numerous disinformation campaigns and repeated concerns about researchers’ access to data, the European Commission announces its formal investigation only five weeks before the European elections. This represents a live stress test for the Digital Services Act and will demonstrate if the regulation can deliver results to protect the elections from malicious manipulation, such as foreign interference and disinformation. 

Civil society organisations, media and journalists, and public authorities have constantly exposed numerous information operations using platforms’ features to directly target Europeans. One of the most emblematic of them, exposed and named by EU DisinfoLab in collaboration with Qurium in September 2022, being ‘Doppelganger’. This persistent multi-language and multi-state disinformation operation led by Russia is designed to disrupt our democratic systems and elections and is still active today

Over the past 18 months, civil society and media have publicly documented the developments of this operation and provided extensive evidence of how it has consistently and clearly breached online platforms’ policies. Only on Doppelganger, the most egregious examples of these abuses include:

  • A permanent advertisement campaign consisting of thousands of ads on Meta, pushing Russian propaganda to European audiences. According to the latest study on the topic, these ads may have reached up to millions of Meta users. 
  • The incessant creation and use of hundreds of thousands of fake accounts and pages to spread Russian propaganda on Facebook.

For almost two years, Meta has been aware of the Doppelganger campaign; they have regularly commented on it and acknowledged the public exposure done by civil society and media. Despite this knowledge, these regular exposures show Meta has not taken meaningful steps to mitigate the risks and to address the abuse. 

Already in January 2024, the European Fact-Checking Standard Network (EFCSN) pointed out that, ”[m]ore than a year and a half after they signed the EU Code of Practice on Disinformation, most of the major digital platforms are far from implementing the measures they committed to. Some of those companies are even misrepresenting their current policies in their reports to make them look like they are fulfilling their commitments.”

EU DisinfoLab will continue to monitor and work with relevant partners to provide more evidence and assess if any meaningful change will be brought by the companies under investigation.

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