Brussels waded into the dispute between President Donald Trump and Twitter on Wednesday as the EU backed Twitter in its decision to fact-check two tweets by the US leader. The social media giant and the US President have been embroiled in a controversy ever since Twitter decided to institute fact checks on the President’s tweets concerning balloting via mail.
The European Commission’s top official on countering disinformation praised Twitter for tagging two claims made by Trump last month about postal ballots in US elections.
EU backs Twitter: urges social media firms to do more to end misinformation
The intervention came as the EU urged web giants including Twitter, Facebook and Google to do more to tackle the “massive wave” of harmful online disinformation triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.
Brussels officials said that while social media platforms had taken steps to counter the deluge of misleading healthcare information, hoaxes and conspiracy theories, their efforts were “not good enough”.
Trump has come under fire for suggesting COVID-19 patients could be treated by ingesting disinfectant, but it was his tweets claiming mail-in voting would lead to a “rigged election” that sparked the clash with Twitter.
Trump’s tweets flagged as nonfactual: the incident
The site added links reading “get the facts” to the two Trump tweets, infuriating the social-media savvy president, who has more than 80 million followers. Twitter tagged two of his tweets in which he claimed that more mail-in voting would lead to what he called a “Rigged Election” this November. This is one of the tweets in question:
There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent. Mail boxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed. The Governor of California is sending Ballots to millions of people, anyone…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 26, 2020
Subsequently, US President Donald Trump threatened to shutter social media platforms after Twitter for the first time acted against his false tweets, prompting the enraged Republican to double down on unsubstantiated claims and conspiracy theories. Trump’s attack on Twitter may also be a precursor to tighter social media regulation by the current administration.
EU backs Twitter labelling amid feud with Trump
Vera Jourova, the European Commission vice-president for values and transparency, who leads the bloc’s anti-disinformation fight, said this was the right approach.
“I support the Twitter reaction to tweets of President Trump,” she said. “They did not delete it. We all can see it. They provided fact-checked information and promoted facts.”
Jourova was speaking at the launch of a major policy document outlining the EU’s approach to tackling disinformation about the pandemic.
We'll support fact-checking and research activities through the European Digital Media Observatory. This month we will launch a call for 9 mln 💶 for the research hubs in different Member States. In democracies it is essential to provide a competition of free speech.#EUvsDisinfo pic.twitter.com/LTBrN1Nurc
— Věra Jourová (@VeraJourova) June 10, 2020
She also tweeted that the European Commission supports fact-checking of updates on social media.
In the report, the bloc also accused China and Russia of mounting targeted propaganda campaigns to undermine democracy and burnish their own images.
“The pandemic showed that disinformation does not only harm the health of our democracies, it also harms the health of our citizens,” said Jourova.
Twitter targeting untrue information since the pandemic outbreak
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, Twitter has challenged more than 3.4 million suspicious accounts targeting coronavirus discussions.
YouTube, which is owned by Google, has reviewed more than 100,000 videos related to misleading virus information and removed more than 15,000 of them,
Jourova welcomed these efforts but said more was needed, urging platforms to share more information.
“They have to open up and offer more evidence that the measures they have taken are working well,” she told reporters.
After some platforms were accused of exploiting controversial content to drive revenue from adverts, Jourova said this business model needed to be examined.
“It is also crucial to remove the financial incentives for those who want to benefit from disinformation,” she said.
False claims about how the virus originated and spread and how it can be treated have mushroomed as fast as COVID-19 has spread around the globe.
They include dangerous “treatments” such as drinking bleach or pure alcohol.
Conspiracy theories have included claims that the virus was deliberately created to reduce population growth, or that its spread is somehow linked to 5G communications infrastructure.
Vaccines to be subject of misinformation very soon
The EU report said a new approach was needed because of the wide range of dangerous or misleading material appearing online.
Much of it is not illegal but still harmful, and also includes hate speech, consumer scams and influence-peddling operations by foreign powers.
The 17-page report accuses Moscow and Beijing of “seeking to undermine democratic debate and exacerbate social polarisation, and improve their own image in the COVID-19 context.”
As parts of the world begin to ease their virus lockdowns as the first wave of the pandemic slows, Jourova warned the torrent of disinformation would not let up.
“Vaccination seems to be the next battleground,” she said, referring to a suspect report out of Germany about the willingness to vaccinate.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk