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Meta Over Russian Disinformation, EU Launches Probe

European Commission a formal investigation into Meta's handling of political content, a Russian influence campaign
May 1, 2024

The European Commission has initiated formal investigation proceedings into Meta over its handling of political content, including a suspected Russian influence campaign. As elections approach in the EU and elsewhere, the Commission aims to assess whether Meta's approach to moderating disinformation on Facebook and Instagram violates EU law.

Meta, formerly Facebook, is one of several tech firms designated as "very large online platforms" (VLOPs) under the bloc's Digital Services Act (DSA). VLOPs face fines of up to 6% of their annual turnover if they fail to meet tougher content moderation requirements, including measures to prevent election manipulation and disinformation.

The Commission's investigation focuses on four main concerns:

1. Ineffective oversight and moderation of adverts

2. Lack of transparency regarding the demotion of political content and accounts

3. Inadequate access for journalists and civil society researchers to real-time data or tools to monitor political content during elections

4. Insufficiently clear and accessible mechanisms for users to report illegal content

A European Commission official stated that Meta's current approach to moderating advertisements does not meet DSA requirements. This comes after findings by the non-profit research organization, AI Forensics, revealed a Russian influence campaign running ads across Meta's platforms. The campaign reportedly reached 38 million users between August 2023 and March 2024.

Meta claims to have taken action against the campaign since its exposure in 2022, resulting in reduced user engagement. However, concerns remain about Meta's approach to CrowdTangle, a public tool providing data and insights into Facebook and Instagram content engagement. Meta announced in March that CrowdTangle would no longer be available after August 14, but stated it is developing new tools to provide wider access to platform data.

The European Commission's investigation follows a similar probe into disinformation on X (formerly Twitter) initiated in March. As the Commission seeks to protect European citizens from targeted disinformation and manipulation, Meta has been given five days to respond to requests for information regarding tools for monitoring content during upcoming elections.

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