European Commission starts formal probe of Meta over election misinformation

Europe takes action after Facebook parent withdraws monitoring tool

The European Commission has launched formal proceedings against Meta, alleging failure to properly monitor distribution by "foreign actors" of political misinformation before June's European elections.

Specifically, it is concerned the ad network is "a soft target" for online attackers employed by Russia.

Using the recently introduced Digital Services Act, which could impose a fine of roughly $8.5 billion in Meta's case, the EC said it suspects the Facebook and Instagram owner infringed the law with policies and practices relating to deceptive advertising and political content on its services.

The EC is also concerned that Meta's platforms lack a third-party real-time election-monitoring tool ahead of the elections to the European Parliament, where 400 million people are eligible to vote. Specifically, officials are concerned about Meta's decision to "deprecate" its real-time "public insights" tool CrowdTangle, used by journalists and researchers in civil society, without an adequate replacement.

Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the new rules were designed to protect European citizens from targeted disinformation and manipulation by third countries. "If we suspect a violation of the rules, we act. This is true at all times, but especially in times of democratic elections. Big digital platforms must live up to their obligations to put enough resources into this and today's decision shows that we are serious about compliance."

An EC official said one example of a grievance against Meta was uncovered by AI forensics examining a Meta ad repository. The results led researchers to suspect mechanisms to identify and take action against foreign misinformation were not working properly.

"We are asking platforms to have sufficient quick reaction processes in place for these different threats, and in this particular case, I think they're not there," the official said. The investigation was one element of "a complex of issues" related to election integrity, suggesting the ad network was "a soft target for foreign Russian actors."

Addressing Meta's decision to discontinue the CrowdTangle election-monitoring tool used by researchers, journalists and civil society, Meta had failed to diligently assess and adequately mitigate risks related to Facebook's and Instagram's effects on civic discourse and electoral processes, the EC alleged.

The EC has given Meta five working days to explain what remedial actions have been taken to address the issue around election monitoring tools. In a third strand of the proceedings, the Commission said it suspects Meta's policies demoted political content in the recommender systems of Instagram and Facebook, including their feeds, which was not compliant with DSA obligations. The fourth strand alleged Meta's way of letting users flag illegal content was also not compliant.

In a statement, a Meta spokesperson said: "We have a well-established process for identifying and mitigating risks on our platforms. We look forward to continuing our cooperation with the European Commission and providing them with further details of this work."

The DSA came into force in August 2023. It sets rules designed to make very large online platforms (VLOPs) "tackle the spread of illegal content, online disinformation and other societal risks" presented by online service providers.

Last week, the EC used the DSA to give TikTok 24 hours to explain the risk assessment procedures it used before launching a version of its app that rewards users for using it in certain ways.

In December last year, X-formerly-Twitter became the first online platform to have formal DSA proceedings launched against it. An official said the investigation is ongoing and it has had "quite intense contacts with X."®

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like