Digital Services Act Update

Last night, MEPs in the internal market committee (IMCO) approved compromise amendments on the Digital Services Act.

We had been fearing the passage of an amendment from the legal affairs committee (JURI 281) banning platforms from moderating ‘media’ content. Thanks to strong advocacy from the community, this amendment was rejected last night. So while we breathe a sigh of relief, it’s too soon for celebration. The report is scheduled to be voted on in plenary in January (tentatively scheduled for the 17th), and we expect a new media exemption amendment will be tabled then. We need to stay vigilant and ensure all MEPs understand our concerns about this amendment before that critical vote!

Regarding user redress mechanisms, together with HateAid and over 60 others, we had called on MEPs to broaden the application of Art.17 to ensure equal rights to complaint for all users. We urged MEPs to broaden the application of the article to cover all cases, including where users want to act when a platform has not removed or disabled access to a piece of content – by including “whether or not” in Art.17 (1). This amendment didn’t make it into last night’s vote, so we also have this in our sights for plenary.

If you want to sign either of these petitions or get involved in these issues, let us know!

Disinfo News and Updates

  • French counter-disinfo alliance. Agence-France Presse and Google France are launching a counter-disinformation programme, “Objectif Désinfox”, ahead of the 2022 French presidential elections. It will offer training for its members in fact-checking and monitoring and establishing a collaborative platform.
  • Data access in the US. Senators in the United States have put forward a bill that would require social media platforms to open data to researchers. The “Platform Accountability and Transparency Act” would also give the Federal Trade Commission  authority to require platforms to share certain information with the public on a regular basis, for instance related to targeted advertising.
  • Twitter’s policy problems. Twitter’s new private information policy which was expanded to include “private media” was followed by malicious reports and enforcement errors. Twitter is reviewing the policy internally. Meanwhile Twitter’s content moderation was on trial in Paris and Frankfurt.

EU Policy Monitor 

  • Code of Practice. The revised Code of Practice has been delayed by three months, until March 2022, due to disagreements between the signatories and the ambitions of the Commission. The Commission intends for the new code to focus on defunding disinformation, to offer meaningful transparency, and to gain some regulatory power from the Digital Services Act. It also announced it will work with WhatsApp to determine relevant commitments for encrypted private messaging services. Meanwhile, they’ve extended the Covid-19 monitoring programme by six months, through June 2022.
  • European Democracy Action Plan. On the eve of the US Summit for Democracy, the Lisbon Council held a high-level roundtable on the one year anniversary of the adoption of the European Democracy Action Plan (EDAP).
  • Hate Speech and Cyberviolence. The Commission plans to amend one of the EU’s foundational texts and extend the list of EU crimes to enable it to more strongly combat gender-based violence and violence against LGBTQ+ people and other minorities, online and offline. This would prevent the risk of patchwork legislation across the EU. MEPs meanwhile have called for a directive to establish a common criminal legal definition of gender-based cyberviolence and to harmonise sanctions for offenders.

The Latest from the EU DisinfoLab

  • Research from EU DisinfoLab researcher Ana Romero-Vicente on “word camouflage” studies Spanish words related to Covid-19 that have been subtly modified to evade detection by Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, or Twitter. Read more in El País!
  • EU DisinfoLab is proud to join the EU CrossOver Project, which will focus on the influence of content recommendation algorithms in the spread of disinformation, along with the Dutch-language media outlet Apache, the French media education association Savoir*Devenir and the Finnish start-up Check First

EU DisinfoLab Monthly Trends

Highlights from our November monitoring of fact-checked disinformation in France, Germany, and Spain:

  • In view of the French presidential elections, a manipulated video, combining recent news headlines with old statements by the government spokesman, surfaced online to claim that electronic voting will be implemented to favour voter fraud.
  •  Interestingly, German-speaking Russian outlets that are aligned with anti-vax movements or label COVID-19 measures as a dictatorship, also support vaccination campaigns in Russia.
  • In Spain, the hoax that  Pfizer is engaging in a cross-selling strategy went viral. Fuelling Covid-19 disinformation, the pharmaceutical company is accused of increased sales for Eliquis (a medication for blood clots) and Vyndaquel (for cardiomyopathy).

Research, Stories and Updates from Elsewhere

  • Serbian investigative journalism outlet KRIK is facing an onslaught of frivolous lawsuits (SLAPPS) and smear campaigns aimed at intimidation and censorship.
  • Christoph Reuter recounts the tragic and disinformation-riddled story of James Le Mesurier, founder of the organization that raised money for the White Helmets in the Syrian war, for Spiegel International.
  • The Santa Clara Principles on Transparency and Accountability in Content Moderation, a set of widely-endorsed recommendations created in 2018 to help platforms enforce their community guidelines, has been updated following a two-year consultation.

Events and Announcements

  • Call for Applications for Our Voices Our Futures, Feminist Tech Deep-Dive on Misinformation/Disinformation. Apply here before December 31, 2021.
  • The Brussels School of Governance is running a NATO-funded video contest to counter disinformation. More here
  • The Alliance of Democracies and Microsoft are hosting a discussion of the Election Risk Monitor – Germany 2021. More here.