Social media companies have enabled the Kremlin to run a large-scale disinformation campaign targeting the European Union and its allies during the first year of the Russian war against Ukraine, the EU Commission says in a report on risk management and how the new EU Digital Services Act can be used to fight disinformation.
The Kremlin disinformation has reached an aggregate audience of at least 165 million and generated at least 16 billion views. Social media companies’ promises to limit the reach of Kremlin-sponsored disinformation have overall been unsuccessful, the report concludes.
“Preliminary analysis suggests that the reach and influence of Kremlin-backed accounts has grown further in the first half of 2023, driven in particular by the dismantling of Twitter’s safety standards.”
Under the ownership of Elon Musk, Twitter, now called X, has downgraded its moderation of what can be said on the platform.
The report says that its conclusions raises questions not only about European Union defences against Russia’s information warfare but also about the integrity of the European election in June of 2024.
EU’s Digital Services Act has formally been in force since last autumn but a step-by-step implementation means that it is from now that stricter rules for big tech are in place. Since August 25, the 19 biggest platforms now have to comply with the DSA that includes removing illegal content..
“The Kremlin’s ongoing disinformation campaign not only forms an integral part of Russia’s military agenda, but also causes risks to public security, fundamental rights and electoral processes inside the European Union.”
“Moreover, we observe that disinformation is only one weapon in the Kremlin’s information warfare arsenal. The Kremlin’s operations on online platforms often build on other inflammatory or deceptive content, and a range of malign behaviours designed to silence opponents and suppress the truth about the war in Ukraine.”
The report says that social media platforms’ efforts did not effectively impede the growth and influence of Kremlin information warfare generally.
“Effective mitigation was not yet required by law under the DSA during the period of study in 2022. However, most of the platforms were signatories to the Code of Practice as of June 2022.
The report says that in many cases the mitigation measures introduced by online platforms failed to account for the Kremlin’s malign intent and full scope of information warfare tactics employed on online platforms.
As an example the report says no platform introduced policies addressing all or even most Kremlin-operated accounts.
“In addition, platforms fundamentally ignored cross-platform coordinated campaigns. As a result, the Russian Federation continues to operate vast networks of social media accounts propagating deceptive, dehumanising and violent content and engaging in coordinated inauthentic behaviour.
The report finds that the reach of Kremlin-sponsored disinformation inside the EU has grown since February 2022.
“In absolute numbers, proKremlin accounts continue to reach the largest audiences on Meta’s platforms. Meanwhile, the audience size for Kremlin-backed accounts more than tripled on Telegram.”
“In addition, we found that no platform consistently applied its terms of service in repeated tests of user notification systems in several Central and Eastern European languages. The rules provided by the DSA hold great potential to reign in Kremlin disinformation campaigns and other state-sponsored attacks on the democratic integrity and fundamental rights. But they must be applied quickly and effectively in order to help mitigate these coordinated attacks on European democracy.”
The DSA new and stricter rules are for the most dominating platforms. After an investigation based on user data, the EU has announced that they are 17 Very Large Online Platforms and 2 Very Large Online Search Engines that reach at least 45 million monthly active users. These are:
Very Large Online Platforms:
- Alibaba AliExpress
- Amazon Store
- Apple AppStore
- Google Play
- Google Maps
- Google Shopping
Very Large Online Search Engines:
- Google Search
Digital Services Act, a short summary
- Aims to create a safer online space for users, stricter rules for platforms
- The DSA establishes a “notice and action” mechanism, as well as safeguards, for the removal of illegal content.
- Online platforms must be transparent about how algorithms work and platforms should be accountable for decisions they make.
- Measures to counter illegal products, services and content online, including clearly defined procedures for removals
- Mandatory risk assessments and more transparency over “recommender systems” to fight harmful content and disinformation
- Online platforms should be prohibited from using deceiving or nudging techniques to influence users’ behaviour through “dark patterns”
- Targeted advertising: the text provides for more transparent and informed choice for all recipients of services, including information on how their data will be monetised and to better protect minors from direct marketing, profiling and behaviourally targeted advertising for commercial purposes