June 13, 2024
Meta ramps up efforts to combat disinformation ahead of crucial EU elections

With the European Parliament elections just months away, Facebook and Instagram’s parent company Meta is rolling out new initiatives aimed at curbing the spread of misinformation and manipulation on its platforms. 

In a blog post on Sunday, Marco Pancini, Meta’s head of EU affairs, outlined a detailed plan that includes setting up an EU-specific Election Operations Center, expanding its network of fact-checking partners, and developing tools to detect and label AI-generated content.

“As the election approaches, we’ll activate an EU-specific Elections Operations Center, bringing together experts from across the company from our intelligence, data science, engineering, research, operations, content policy and legal teams to identify potential threats and put specific mitigations in place across our apps and technologies in real time,” Pancini said in the post.

The stakes are high, as the June elections will shape the future of the European Union at a pivotal moment. Voter manipulation tactics could sway results, especially with new technologies like deepfakes making disinformation more convincing.

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Meta has faced intense scrutiny over election interference since 2016 when Russian trolls weaponized the platform to sow discord in the U.S. presidential race. The company has since invested billions in safety and security and implemented transparency measures for political ads.

Experts say efforts have ‘serious limitations

But experts warn Meta’s plan for combating disinformation may not be enough. Recent reports show the company failed to catch coordinated influence campaigns originating from China that targeted Americans ahead of the 2022 midterms.

While Meta is expanding its fact-checking network to now cover all 24 official EU languages and requiring disclosures for AI-generated content, critics argue these efforts lack teeth. For example, there is still no clear system in place to reliably authenticate images and videos that appear to show violent confrontations between groups. With advanced editing software, compelling fake footage can be difficult to debunk.

Meta’s additions of only three more fact-checking partners also seem inadequate given the scale of the threat. The entire network of 29 organizations across Europe may struggle to keep up with the flood of misinformation expected around such an important vote.

And while Meta’s planned transparency labels for AI content are a step in the right direction, experts ask how the system will confidently identify manipulated media like deepfakes. There is currently no reliable technology — at Meta or elsewhere — that can detect AI forgeries with complete accuracy.

Influencers remain vulnerable to exploitation

Past influence operations have also exploited authentic voices like politicians, journalists, and other people with large followings to amplify divisive narratives. As high-stakes elections loom across 80 nations this year, even small-scale disinformation attempts may gain wider traction if amplified by public figures and people in positions of authority.

According to Ben Nimmo, Meta’s global threat intelligence lead, the main way that covert influence campaigns penetrate mainstream political discourse is by co-opting reputable influencers. “The main way that covert campaigns get through to authentic communities is when they manage to co-opt real people with audiences,” Nimmo said in the company’s latest adversarial threat report.

This remains a major vulnerability, as even just a few shares by someone with credibility can lend legitimacy to false narratives linked to foreign interference.

With the crucial EU elections fast approaching, Meta remains on high alert. But as deepfake technology becomes more advanced, the frontlines of information warfare grow more complex.

Meta’s plan marks an important step, but protecting democracy in the social media era remains an uphill battle. Authentic voices with power and influence will continue to be prime targets for manipulation.

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