EU Commission Takes on Disinformation and Election Interference

During a press briefing after speaking with Big Tech leaders in the US, EU Commission VP Věra Jourová talked about the steps European regulators are taking to safeguard global elections.

Shane Snider , Senior Writer, InformationWeek

May 31, 2024

3 Min Read
Screen capture showing EU Commission press briefing in San Francisco on May 31.
Screen capture showing EU Commission press briefing in San Francisco on May 31.Zoom screen capture - Shane Snider

Věra Jourová, the EU Commission vice president for values and transparency, on Friday during a press conference said Big Tech must take more steps to safeguard global democratic elections against interference and online disinformation.

The San Fransico press briefing was Jourová’s last stop on a US tour that saw her meet with Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, X (formerly Twitter) CEO Linda Yaccarino, YouTube CEO Neal Mohan, and many others. Jourová’s message was clear: Authoritarian governments -- mainly Russia -- are working hard to manipulate election outcomes to influence the geopolitical landscape in their favor.

She said social media influence coupled with the increasingly sophisticated AI-enabled deepfakes are threatening democracy globally. “We have to take measures to protect the electoral process and to protect the ability of the voters to cast their autonomous vote without manipulation,” she told reporters in attendance at the EU Commission’s San Fransico office and joining online. “The cooperation with the digital platforms mainly born here in the United States is absolutely critical. Because they open space for not only democratic discussion and open communication, but also the space for hostile actors to influence our public opinion.”

Jourová cited Russian interference in past elections as well as a rise in antisemitic activity following the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel on Oct. 7.  “We saw a big wave of antisemitism online that spilled over into the real world,” she said. “These are things we want to be stopped. And the platforms have an obligation to comply with our rules, which means that they should detect the criminal content and remove it … we want them to do more fact-checking.”

She cited recently adopted regulations like the Digital Services Act and EU AI Act as efforts to safeguard the global community against extremist content, terrorist content and hate speech. She said a report the Commission conducted through March showed multiple threats. “It’s not only about European elections, but also national elections,” Jourová said. “We see several concrete new threats which might negatively influence the electoral process and legality of elections … Disinformation and disinformation produced and amplified by artificial intelligence -- we want the platforms to label the content produced by AI.”

Free Speech Considerations

She pushed back on the idea that increased regulations were hampering free speech.

“When we speak about the moderation of content, in the sense of moderation of disinformation, we are not correcting anyone’s opinions, we just want to do the fact-checking. We want the platforms to increase the capacity to do fact-checking by their own means, but also to cooperate with fact-checkers in our member states and with the media.”

Part of the problem is the reach of American social platforms into areas with multiple languages, making fact-checking a more difficult process. “We have 27 member states and 22 languages (within the EU), so this is a permanent pain that we don’t see sufficient fact-checking in all these languages.”

Responding to a question from InformationWeek about whether the EU regulations were disproportionality impacting US tech businesses, Jourová said, “Well, it’s statistics, it’s not bias. Because we have so many American-born companies doing business in the EU, which influence our information space and advertising industry, at a large scale, once we introduced regulations addressing this, we could see that it impacts these big (US) companies.”

She added, “But our legislation doesn’t make any difference between American and European or other companies. Once the companies … want to operate in the European market, they have to comply with the same rules. There was never a discussion we had about the legislation that it would have a special focus on the American companies.”

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About the Author(s)

Shane Snider

Senior Writer, InformationWeek, InformationWeek

Shane Snider is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years of industry experience. He started his career as a general assignment reporter and has covered government, business, education, technology and much more. He was a reporter for the Triangle Business Journal, Raleigh News and Observer and most recently a tech reporter for CRN. He was also a top wedding photographer for many years, traveling across the country and around the world. He lives in Raleigh with his wife and two children.

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