East Europe governments urge tech firms to fight disinformation

Ukraine and seven other central and eastern European nations have called on the world's top tech firms to fight disinformation

March 30, 2023 10:58 am | Updated 10:58 am IST - PRAGUE

File photo of Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg

File photo of Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg | Photo Credit: REUTERS

Ukraine and seven other central and eastern European nations have called on the world's top tech firms to act to fight disinformation on their social media platforms by hostile powers which they say undermine peace and stability.

In an open letter signed by their respective prime ministers, the countries said tech platforms, such as Meta's Facebook, should take concrete steps such as rejecting payments from sanctioned individuals and altering algorithms to promote accuracy over engagement by users.

"Foreign information manipulation and interference, including disinformation is being deployed to destabilize our countries, weaken our democracies, to derail Moldova’s and Ukraine’s accession to the European Union and to weaken our support to Ukraine amid Russia’s war of aggression," the letter provided to media said.

"Big tech companies should be vigilant and resist being used as means of advancing such goals. They should take steps to ensure that their platforms are not being used to spread propaganda or disinformation that promotes war, justifies war crimes, crimes against humanity or other forms of violence."

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The letter was signed by the prime ministers of Ukraine, Moldova, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and released by Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala's office.

Meta said it had beefed up its fact-checking capacity in Eastern Europe, and had taken a number of other steps to fight the spread of misinformation related to the war in Ukraine, as well as demoting content from Russian state-controlled media.

"We’re removing misinformation when it is likely to cause imminent harm or violence, and working with independent fact-checking partners to debunk other false claims and show them lower in Feed, so fewer people see them," a spokesperson said.

"We’re also restricting access to (Russian media) RT and Sputnik across the EU and Ukraine, and adding labels to any post on Facebook that contains links to their websites, so people know before they click or share them. We’re continuing to consult with governments in Central and Eastern Europe to tackle this issue."

The Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), whose members include Meta, Twitter and Google among others, said it backed measures to fight disinformation such as Europe's Digital Services Act (DSA).

"We believe that proper implementation of the DSA, combined with the recently revised EU Code of Practice on Disinformation, is key to stepping up the fight against disinformation," said to Christian Borggreen, Senior Vice President and Head of CCIA Europe, in response to a Reuters question.

A Czech government spokesperson did not immediately respond to a question on who received the letter.

The letter said algorithmic designs must be more transparent, and the public should know about platforms' policies and their enforcement.

Platforms should dedicate enough staff and funding for content moderation, address the growing threat of deepfakes and artificial intelligence-generated disinformation, it said.

"This is a call to action because foreign information manipulation and interference, including disinformation campaigns pose a threat to democracy, stability, and national security," it said.

"Big tech companies have the power to be vital allies in our common effort to tackle hostile information attacks against democracies and international rules-based order."

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