In the wake of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, the European Union (EU) has issued a scathing report condemning major social media companies for their inability to halt the spread of “large-scale” Russian disinformation campaigns.
The report, published by the EU Commission, showcases the alarming growth in the “reach and influence of Kremlin-backed accounts” throughout 2023. Notably, the study points to a surge in Russian disinformation on X, formerly known as Twitter, since it came under the ownership of tech magnate Elon Musk.
Rising Influence of Disinformation
The EU Commission’s report paints a grim picture of the digital battlefield, where Russian disinformation has gained increased traction since the invasion of Ukraine. The study emphasises that the Kremlin-backed disinformation efforts have evolved and expanded, further threatening the stability of the region. The EU Commission raises concerns about the inadequacy of social media giants in countering these campaigns effectively.
Impact of Elon Musk’s Twitter Ownership
One striking revelation in the report is the significant uptick in Russian disinformation on X, formerly known as Twitter, following its acquisition by Elon Musk.
The report implies that the change in ownership has somehow facilitated the spread of Kremlin-backed misinformation on the platform.
Social Media Companies’ Silence
The EU Commission’s concerns have not been met with a timely response from major social media companies. Despite reaching out to Twitter, Meta, TikTok, and YouTube for comment, the BBC has reported that none of these tech giants has issued a statement or explanation regarding the findings of the report. The silence of these platforms raises questions about their commitment to transparency and accountability.
The EU Commission’s report identifies a critical factor contributing to the rise of Kremlin-backed disinformation: the dismantling of Twitter’s safety standards. This revelation suggests that the weakening of internal safeguards on social media platforms has allowed harmful content to stay online unchecked. The report shows the need for rigorous safety standards to curb the influence of disinformation campaigns.
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Kremlin Accounts Manipulating Twitter
The report delves into the tactics employed by Kremlin-backed accounts to manipulate Twitter users and spread false narratives. It sheds light on how these accounts have strategically infiltrated the platform to disseminate misleading information. Understanding the methods used by these people is crucial in implementing effective countermeasures.
A significant shortcoming highlighted in the study is the inconsistent application of social media platforms’ terms of service in various eastern European languages. This inconsistency further underscores the need for comprehensive measures that can address disinformation campaigns targeting different linguistic communities.
EU’s Digital Services Act and Potential Fines
The report contextualises recent developments, such as the introduction of stricter rules under the EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA) for major online platforms. These rules demand a more aggressive approach to policing content, including disinformation and hate speech. The study concludes that if the DSA had been operational earlier, social media companies could have faced legal breaches and possible fines for failing to fulfil their legal duties.
The EU Commission’s report is a reminder of the challenges posed by Russian disinformation campaigns in the digital age. It highlights the shortcomings of major social media companies in combating these threats effectively. Furthermore, it emphasises the need for stronger safety standards, consistent application of terms of service, and the robust implementation of regulations like the DSA. The silence of these tech giants in response to these concerns raises critical questions about their commitment to addressing this global issue.