The city of Brussels has cautioned that Alphabet, TikTok, and Meta need to take further action in safeguarding Slovakia’s election from outside meddling, or else they could be subject to significant penalties.
During a series of meetings held in Bratislava, the European Commission and the government of Slovakia urged companies to allocate additional resources towards combating hate speech, disinformation, and pro-Russia propaganda leading up to the September 30 election.
European and Slovak regulators are increasingly worried about the spread of disinformation and pro-Kremlin beliefs among social media users in the region. This includes followers of Robert Fico, the controversial ex-prime minister of Slovakia. Fico has publicly advocated for the cessation of military aid to Ukraine and his political party is currently leading in the polls.
During the week of September 11, confidential meetings were held and two European Commission officials, a policymaker from the Slovakian government, and three tech executives were given the opportunity to speak anonymously about them.
The impending election in an Eastern European nation serves as a crucial initial assessment for the EU’s recently implemented digital regulations. According to the Digital Services Act, social media companies are required to demonstrate their efforts in actively removing unlawful content and shutting down foreign propaganda. Failure to comply can result in penalties of up to 6% of their yearly worldwide earnings.
The individuals mentioned that Executives from Elon Musk’s Twitter, which has been rebranded as X, were invited to the talks but did not show up. Despite a request for comment, the company did not provide a response. Meta, Alphabet, and TikTok chose not to comment on the discussions held in Bratislava.
Executives in the tech industry characterized their conversations with regulators and government officials in the EU as productive.
At the meetings, the companies emphasized their current teams responsible for moderating local content and their enhanced partnership with Slovakian fact-checking organizations. The firms also mentioned implementing internal modifications to address potentially harmful content.
However, the upcoming election in Slovakia will determine the effectiveness of Europe’s recent regulations on social media. According to data from POLITICO, the populist Smer-SD party is currently ahead in the polls. If they win the majority of parliamentary seats, Slovakia may decrease its assistance to Ukraine.
The Poll of Polls for the Slovakian National Parliament Election is being conducted.
To access additional polling information from various European countries, check out the POLITICO Poll of Polls.
Several nationalist parties are openly hostile to ongoing support for Kyiv, 19 months after Russia’s full-scale invasion. A vocal minority of Slovakian social media users also routinely share pro-Kremlin talking points about Kyiv’s ties to fascism and bogus reports of Ukrainian soldiers surrendering to Russian troops, according to a recent report from the Central European Digital Media Observatory, a European Commission-funded group.
According to data collected by Reset, a nonprofit organization dedicated to monitoring social media, there has been a surge in online assaults targeting refugees from the Middle East and Ukraine, as well as instances of discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community in Slovakia leading up to the upcoming vote.
Ľuboš Blaha, a member of the Smer-SD political party, was banned from Facebook last year for violating the platform’s hate speech policies due to pressure from US lawmakers. However, his posts from the messaging app Telegram are frequently re-shared on Smer-SD’s Facebook page, despite his suspension. According to a spokesperson from Meta, this reposting does not go against Blaha’s ban.
The effectiveness of Europe’s updated regulations for social media will be put to the test during Poland’s upcoming parliamentary election. The competition has already heightened tensions online between opposing political parties, with accusations of underhanded tactics being exchanged.
Thierry Breton, the European Union’s commissioner for internal markets overseeing the Digital Services Act, stated to POLITICO that they will evaluate the specific impacts of these measures to determine if they are sufficient or if further action is necessary. Protecting the integrity of elections is a primary focus for enforcing the DSA.