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Google and social networks sign code of conduct to tackle fake news

Elections are coming, and the world's tech giants appear ready to help rather than hinder democracy.

Facebook logo with European Union flag are seen in this

Social networks are cracking down on fake news.

SOPA Images/Getty

Google and a group of other tech giants, including Facebook and Twitter, have signed a code of conduct on how they will tackle the spread of fake news, the European Commission said on Wednesday.

With major European Parliament elections approaching in 2019, the EU is keen to minimize the influence of fake news on social media. The aim of the code is to keep political advertising transparent and close down fake accounts before they can cause harm, the Commission said in a press release.

The size and scope of the fake news problem came to light in the wake of the 2016 US presidential election and Brexit referendum. In the two years following these events, the companies have been under pressure from governments around the world to deal with the problem in order to prevent malicious actors from trying to manipulate election results.

Rather than create legislation that would force big online platforms -- most of which are outside the EU -- to adhere to strict regulations, the EU has kept the code voluntary. Big tech companies worked with the EU to develop the code, which stipulates they must work to do the following five things:

  • Disrupt advertising revenues of certain accounts and websites that spread disinformation. 
  • Make political advertising and issue-based advertising more transparent. 
  • Address the issue of fake accounts and online bots. 
  • Empower people to report disinformation and access different news sources, while making it easier to discover authoritative content. 
  • Assist the research community in monitoring online disinformation through privacy-compliant access to the platforms' data.

Mariya Gabriel, EU Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, called it "an important step in tackling a problem which has become increasingly pervasive and threatens Europeans' trust in democratic processes and institutions."

"Online platforms need to act as responsible social players especially in this crucial period ahead of elections. They must do their utmost to stop the spread of disinformation," Gabriel said.

Google Public Policy Manager Jon Steinberg highlighted in a blog post on Wednesday the other measures the company is also putting in place to tackle the spread of false information online. "We're clear on our ultimate goal -- to get people access to useful and relevant information from authoritative sources," he said. "We'll keep working with partners around the world to make it happen."

"The fight against false news will never be over," said a Facebook spokesman. "That is why we are making significant investments to remove fake accounts and clickbait and to promote high-quality journalism and news literacy."

First published Sept. 26 at 10:36 a.m. PT.
Update at 10:51 a.m. PT: Adds comment from Facebook. 

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