Here's what's in Big Tech's deal to fight disinformation in Europe

Who's in, who's out and what's in Europe's new Code of Practice anyway?

EU flags at the European Commission

The European Commission has sealed commitments from 34 signatories on its new Code of Practice.

Photo: Guillaume Périgois/Unsplash

The European Commission's long awaited Code of Practice is finally here — and it has some giant names attached.

The Code — which was developed by 34 signatories, including Meta, Google, TikTok and Microsoft — is essentially a list of disinformation-fighting practices tech companies can employ if they want to demonstrate they’re at least trying to mitigate risk and stay in compliance with the Digital Services Act in Europe.

“To be credible, the new Code of Practice will be backed up by the DSA — including for heavy dissuasive sanctions,” Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for Internal Market, said in a statement on Thursday. “Very large platforms that repeatedly break the Code and do not carry out risk mitigation measures properly risk fines of up to 6% of their global turnover.”

The list of signatories also includes Twitter, Twitch, Vimeo, Clubhouse, Adobe and a range of civil society, research and fact-checking groups. Notably missing from the list, however, are other tech giants, including Apple and Telegram, which have played a particularly key role in the spread of misinformation around the war in Ukraine. Amazon is also largely missing, with the exception of livestreaming platform Twitch, which the company owns.

Not every company that did sign on has committed to every line item in the code, leading to some ongoing conflict even among signatories. In some cases, that could be because the commitment just isn’t relevant to their business. In others, it could mean tech platforms are picking and choosing the commitments that are the easiest for them to pull off.

Still, the list of companies that have signed up — and what they have signed up for — is significant, and could lead to dramatically more transparency into some of the world’s biggest platforms.

Companies now have a six-month window to implement the code. Here are a few of the biggest promises they’re making:

Demonetizing disinformation

The Code would increase pressure on platforms to not only cease carrying disinformation but also “avoid the placement of advertising next to Disinformation content or on sources that repeatedly violate these policies.”

More political ad transparency

The companies committed to creating “dedicated searchable ad repositories” and ensuring that political ads come with a disclaimer and details about how much an ad cost and how long it ran. Meta and Google already offer this, but the Code would encourage even more platforms that want to stay on the right side of the DSA to provide this visibility. (Of course, it could also, alternatively, push some platforms to cut off political ads altogether, as Twitter, LinkedIn and Twitch already do, a move some argue has only made it harder for small campaigns and advocacy groups to get their messages out.)

More data sharing with researchers

The Code requires companies to offer researchers “automated access to non-personal, anonymized, aggregated or manifestly made public data.”

“This is potentially huge,” Mathias Vermeulen, director of European data rights agency AWO, said in a tweet. “It could entail the development of a Crowdtangle platform for all these companies.”

“In the words of Joe Biden, ‘it's a big fucking deal,’ and potentially an inflection point in the history of social media,” tweeted CrowdTangle founder Brandon Silverman, who has become an outspoken advocate for transparency in the tech industry. “But whether that's true will be determined in all the work that happens from this point on..and there's a lot.”

More reporting on progress

Under the Code, “very large platforms” (defined as having more than 45 million average monthly active users in the EU) will have to report every six months on their progress implementing the Code. Other companies will report on an annual basis.

More collaboration across platforms

The signatories agreed to work more closely across platforms to compare notes on manipulative user behavior they’re encountering. That’s a potentially meaningful shift, which would give smaller companies operating in Europe the benefit of visibility into what the largest players with the most resources are seeing — and what they’re doing about it.

A task force to keep commitments fresh

The hardest part of regulating tech is that innovation often outpaces the law itself. The Code establishes a task force, which will “review and adapt the commitments in view of technological, societal, market and legislative developments.”

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Safwan Shah, PayActiv’s founder and CEO, is credited with coining the term "earned wage access," which has been criticized by consumer advocates as being potentially predatory, especially when it comes to workers who don’t make much money.

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