Social Media Companies Fail to Counter Russian Propaganda: EU Report

In a scathing report released by the EU Commission, it has been revealed that tech giants including Meta, Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube have failed to effectively tackle large-scale Russian disinformation campaigns. This failure is particularly evident since the 2023 invasion of Ukraine, with the reach and influence of Kremlin-backed accounts only growing stronger. The report specifically highlights the increase in Russian disinformation on Meta, formerly known as Facebook, since the acquisition by Elon Musk. Despite the reach of Kremlin-backed accounts expanding on different platforms, social media companies have not provided a sufficient response to this rampant propaganda.

The study examines the efforts made by platforms to combat Kremlin-backed disinformation campaigns and highlights the significant rise in such activities, largely due to the loosening of safety standards on Twitter. The BBC previously reported that official Kremlin social media accounts had been spreading false information about the conflict in Ukraine. The report states that “pro-Kremlin accounts continue to reach the largest audiences on Meta’s platforms” and highlights a threefold increase in the audience size of Kremlin-backed accounts on Telegram.

One concerning finding is the inconsistent enforcement of terms of service by these platforms in various eastern European languages. The lack of a uniform approach undermines the effectiveness of efforts to combat disinformation and propaganda.

The recent introduction of stricter rules under the EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA) for major online platforms aims to address these issues. The DSA requires large social media companies with at least 45 million monthly active users to adopt a more aggressive approach in policing content, including disinformation and hate speech. The study concludes that social media platforms, if assessed under the new regulations, would have violated their legal obligations, potentially resulting in fines.

The report also highlights a concerning tweet from Elon Musk on April 9, in which he announced that his platform would no longer “limit” Kremlin-run accounts. Musk defended this move by emphasizing the importance of press freedom, suggesting that censorship should not occur simply because others engage in it. However, such a decision has drawn criticism, especially considering that Twitter had previously limited Kremlin-run accounts under previous management.

The failure of social media companies to effectively tackle Russian disinformation poses significant challenges and risks for society. The reach and influence of Kremlin-backed accounts continue to grow, manipulating public opinion and spreading falsehoods. The lack of consistent enforcement of terms of service and safety standards further undermines the battle against disinformation.

Moving forward, it is essential for social media companies to reassess their strategies and enhance their efforts to counter the spread of propaganda. Collaboration between platforms, governments, and international organizations is crucial in developing effective measures to mitigate the impact of disinformation campaigns. Additionally, the implementation and enforcement of stricter regulations, such as the EU’s Digital Services Act, can help hold social media companies accountable for combating disinformation and protect societies from the influence of Kremlin-backed propaganda.