Facebook takes down fake Italian accounts ahead of EU election

CEO and co-founder of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg waves at journalists as he leaves the Elysee Palace after his meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron (unseen) in Paris, France, 10 May 2019. [Yoan Valat/EPA/EFE]

Facebook said on Sunday (12 May) it had taken down numerous Italian accounts on its platform that were false or were spreading fake news ahead of a European parliamentary election later this month.

The European Union has warned of foreign interference in campaigning for the vote of 23-26 May, and in April the European Commission urged Google, Facebook and Twitter to do more to tackle fake news before the poll.

Commission urges platforms to take action on fake accounts before EU elections

Online platforms need to step up their attempts to quell the spread of fake accounts but also provide greater independent access to their content for fact checkers, as part of their wider efforts in compliance with the code of practice against disinformation, the European Commission said on Wednesday (20 March).

“We have removed a series of false and duplicated accounts which violated our authenticity policy, as well as several pages due to violation of rules on name changing,” a spokesman for Facebook in Italy said in an emailed statement.

“We also took action against some pages that repeatedly spread incorrect information,” he said, adding that an investigation by online activist group Avaaz had prompted the decision.

Avaaz said on Sunday that Facebook had taken down 23 Italian accounts with a total of more than 2.46 million followers which were spreading “false information and divisive content” over issues such as migration and vaccines as well as anti-Semitism.

More than half the accounts taken down supported either the 5-Star or the League, the two parties in the Rome government coalition, Avaaz said.

Keen to avoid more heavy-handed regulation, the tech giants had pledged in October to fight the spread of fake news. “We’re committed to protecting the integrity of elections within the European Union and in the whole world,” the Facebook spokesman said.

‘EU model’

On a visit to France on Friday, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg hailed France’s efforts to regulate hateful content online as a model for the European Union after meeting President Emmanuel Macron in Paris.

Zuckerberg’s meeting with Macron coincided with the release of a report commissioned by the French leader recommending increased oversight of Facebook and an independent regulator to police the efforts of large tech companies to deal with hate speech.

“If more countries can follow the lead of what your government has done here, that will likely end up being a more positive outcome for the world in my view than some of the alternatives,” Zuckerberg told reporters at Facebook’s Paris office after the meeting at the Elysee palace.

“We need new rules for the internet that will spell out the responsibilities of companies and those of governments,” he told France 2 television in an interview. “That is why we want to work with the team of President Macron. We need a public process.”

The French president wants France to take a leading role on tech regulation, seeking to strike a balance between what he perceives as the United States’ laissez-faire stance and China’s iron grip on the internet.

The 33-page report, co-written by a former lobbyist for Google France, recommends that French authorities should have more access to Facebook’s algorithms and greater scope to audit the company’s internal policies against hate speech.

The report comes after Facebook allowed a team of French regulators to spend six months inside the company monitoring its policies. It represents a “half-time” assessment for their stint which started in January.

“The inadequacy and lack of credibility in the self-regulatory approach adopted by the largest platforms justify public intervention to make them more responsible,” the report said.

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