The COVID-19 crisis and the aggression of the Russian federation against Ukraine show well the threats and challenges that disinformation poses to our societies. The Code’s current and prospective signatories are heavily involved in taking urgent action to limit disinformation related to the war in Ukraine. This has had an impact on the process regarding the drafting of the Code, so that current and prospective signatories of the Code indicated that they will need additional time to finalise the Code’s revision. At the same time, the crisis is also giving precious input on the type of actions needed to face such an unprecedented and serious disinformation wave. Thus, the Commission asked the platforms to ensure that lessons are learned in the current context and reflected in a revised Code that is future proof.
With COVID-19 related disinformation remaining an important concern, the Commission publishes today the COVID-19 Monitoring Programme reports on actions taken by TikTok, Twitter, Meta, Microsoft, and Google in January and February 2022 to fight such disinformation.
Fighting COVID-19 disinformation
Platforms report on their updated policies and initiatives to reduce the spread of COVID-19 disinformation in January and February, for example:
- TikTok reported an increase (+18 499) in videos with COVID tags (46 920) in January 2022 compared to December 2021, and a sharp decrease to 20 620 videos tagged in February. Videos with the COVID-19 vaccine tag were instead 450 960 in January (+ 185 201 from December), and they decreased to 196 449 in February. TikTok indicates that the increase in January was caused by the Omicron wave, while the reduction in February happened due to the progressive lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in many Member States.
- In January, Twitter has extended to Spain a feature allowing users to report misinformation they encounter on the platform, including COVID-19 misinformation (available previously only in the U.S., Australia and South Korea). Additionally, Twitter reported suspending 2 153 accounts in January (+1 487 compared to December) and removing 3 397 pieces of content (-1 162), and suspending 336 accounts and removing 1 828 pieces of content in February for violations of the COVID-19 Misleading Information Policy. In February, Twitter launched a new Help Centre Page consolidating Twitter’s policies and efforts to address misleading information. Twitter has also expanded the use of more transparent state-affiliated labels to additional countries (e.g. Germany, Italy, Spain). Twitter has started adding labels on tweets linking to state media regarding Ukraine related contents.
- Meta reports that in January 2022, 20 million visitors from the EU visited the COVID-19 Information Center (+4 million compared to December 2021). In February, this number fell to 9.9 million. Responding to the Commission’s request, Meta now reports on Facebook and Instagram actions separately, reporting that it removed over 142 000 pieces of content from Facebook and over 7 800 pieces from Instagram in January, and over 60 000 pieces of content from Facebook and over 16 000 from Instagram in the EU for violating our COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation policies.
- Microsoft has set up a tracker that identifies websites publishing COVID-19 misinformation, available in France, Germany and Italy. Done in partnership with Newsguard, the tracker has identified so far 547 such websites globally. The COVID-19 experience panel appearing on Bing when searching for COVID-19 related terms had 3 016 296 visits in January and February (-1 787 114 compared to the previous reporting period). Microsoft also reports that it has allowed some COVID-19 related vaccine advertising from public authorities, which generated 1 984 022 impressions with 112,734 resulting clicks in the EU between January and February.
- Since January, Google has blocked or removed over 103,5 million Covid-19 related ads from EU markets for policy violations, including scams and misinformation about cures and fake vaccines.
The COVID-19 Monitoring Programme will run until June 2022, with reports referring to actions taken in March and April.