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EU asks Facebook, Google, Twitter to report monthly on COVID-19 disinformation

Online platforms need to step up their efforts around coronavirus myths, says the EU's European Commission.

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Coronavirus disinformation is rife online.

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For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO and CDC websites.

The coronavirus pandemic has been accompanied by a slew of disinformation -- about the origins of the virus, how it spread and how to treat it. For social media companies, it's the latest in a long series of challenges regarding how to prevent the proliferation of false information on their platforms.

On Wednesday, the European Union's executive body, the European Commission, issued a request to FacebookGoogle, Twitter and other companies that've signed on to its voluntary Code of Practice on Disinformation. The EU wants these companies to submit monthly reports detailing the actions they're taking to promote authoritative content, improve users' awareness and limit coronavirus disinformation.

"To fight disinformation, we need to mobilize all relevant players from online platforms to public authorities, and support independent fact-checkers and media," said Commission Vice-President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová in a statement. "While online platforms have taken positive steps during the pandemic, they need to step up their efforts."

None of the companies immediately responded to requests for comment.

The EU began proactively tackling fake news back in 2015, and at the end 2018 created the Code of Practice, which it asked big social media platforms to sign on to. The code is designed to encourage the swift identification and removal of disinformation and other harmful or illegal content, without the need to put strict regulations in place.

As part of its announcement on Wednesday, the commission also urged social platforms to step up their cooperation with fact-checkers and researchers, in all EU members states and for all languages. The commission will play a part by building on the work of the newly established European Digital Media Observatory to further strengthen support for fact-checkers and researchers.

Among other things, the commission said, advertisements misleading consumers into buying overpriced, ineffective or potentially dangerous products have been of particular concern when it comes to disinformation around the coronavirus.

In most regions of the world, coronavirus cases appear to have peaked, but the flow of fake news is still holding steady and evolving with the news cycle. The EU has determined that the next big disinformation battle on its hands will concern vaccinations for the virus, which are currently being developed in many countries around the globe.