March 2. 2024. 2:15

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Twitter gets ‘yellow card’ as platforms report on content moderation

As major platforms submitted their first progress reports on compliance with the updated Code of Practice on Disinformation, EU officials criticised Twitter for its scant efforts, which gave the impression it “didn’t take it seriously enough”.

The reports are the first since an updated Code was published last June, following guidance issued by the European Commission in May 2021 on how the original 2018 text could be strengthened.

Platforms had until December to implement the commitments they signed up to and until the end of January to report on progress so far, meaning that the documents published today cover the span of one month.

The Code now has 38 signatories, a major expansion since its inception, ranging from Big Tech like Google, Meta, and TikTok to NGOs, fact-checking organisations and software companies.

All signatories submitted their reports on time, but Commission officials reserved criticism for Twitter, put on the spot for providing a much shorter report than other platforms, with scant data and key gaps in the information provided.

“Today’s reports mark an initial step in the battle against online disinformation”, said Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton. “It comes as no surprise that the degree of quality varies greatly according to the resources companies have allocated to this project.”

“It is in the interest of all signatories to abide by their commitment to fully implement the Code of practice against disinformation, in anticipation of the obligations under the Digital Services Act”, he added.

The Digital Services Act (DSA) is the EU’s new content moderation rulebook that will start to bite the largest online platforms as of July.

Platforms prepare for new anti-disinformation commitments in revamped code of practice

The new Code of Practice on Disinformation, seen by EURACTIV before its publication on Thursday (16 June), contains a set of commitments related to online advertising, tacking manipulative practices, transparency and access to data.

The reports include 152 indicators, both quantitative and qualitative, covering all elements of the updated Code.

The areas covered include measures focused on advertising transparency, fact-checking, empowering users and researchers, and demonetising and reducing the presence of disinformation and manipulative behaviour.

The Code’s signatories subscribed to specific commitments relevant to their services and developed a standardised template to deliver their reports.

The documents issued on Thursday (9 February) have been published on the online Transparency Centre created as part of the Code’s update as a publicly-accessible portal for the provision of up-to-date information about the Code and its participants.

The reports will serve as a baseline ahead of the next round of reporting, expected in July, and those that will follow every six months. The strengthened Code will serve as a Code of Conduct under the DSA, and therefore marks the first step in complying with it.

Reports mark ‘crucial change’, except for Twitter

Notably, for several commitments, platforms delivered for the first time data broken down by member state, emphasised by officials as a crucial change, providing a level of detail usually obscured in aggregated EU-level data.

Platforms also submitted information about crisis-moment disinformation campaigns linked to Russia’s war against Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m glad to see for the first time reporting on the country level, but more work is needed when it comes to providing access to data for researchers”, said Věra Jourová, Commission vice president for values and transparency.

“We must have more transparency and cannot rely on the online platforms alone for the quality of information. They need to be independently verifiable.”

Notably shorter than its counterparts was the report submitted by Twitter, which came in at almost 80 pages. In contrast, those of TikTok, Meta, Google and Microsoft, for instance, range from around 150 to well over 200.

That the platform produced the thinnest report “gives the impression that they didn’t take it seriously enough”, a Commission official said.

This was perhaps unsurprising given Twitter’s announcement earlier this week that it would scrap free third-party developer access to its APIs (Application Programming Interface), the official added, describing the move as “going against the spirit of the Code”.

Absent from Twitter’s reporting, officials also noted, is the kind of hard data provided by others, with the platform opting instead for a “narrative” approach. The document also lacks information on fact-checking commitments, as Twitter deemed not applicable to the platform.

“I am disappointed to see that Twitter’s report lags behind others”, said Jourová, adding that she expected “a more serious commitment to their obligations stemming from the Code.”

The lack of data “basically means they did not live up to their commitment in the Code” when it comes to reporting, a Commission official said, adding that the EU executive would need to have a conversation with the platform to ensure they are “taking their commitments seriously” and discuss improvements.

“This is a yellow card”, they said. “It is not yet a red card, but a warning that they have to get more serious.”

Twitter did not respond to EURACTIV’s request for comment by the time of publication.