Social media giants cautioned about disinformation before Slovakia elections

The first elections since the implementation of the DSA and DMA will determine whether they have the power to curtail online falsehoods.

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After a set of meetings between the EU Commission officials and the Slovak government in Bratislava this week, the parties notified big media companies to step up their disinformation capabilities, specifically tackling pro-Russia propaganda. The issue impacts many EU nations and neighbouring countries, as the narratives are gaining traction through online media promoted by Western companies, per the European Parliament.

Slovakia is gearing up for parliamentary elections on September 30, marking the first such event since the implementation of the EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA), which imposes responsibilities on social media platforms to combat political misinformation, hate speech, and the manipulation of electoral processes. Non-compliant companies may receive fines of up to 6% of their yearly worldwide income.

Significant attention is being directed towards platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok, primarily because of their popularity among voters and their role in political messaging. In particular, former prime minister Robert Fico, who is leading the polls, has used his online media presence to reinforce his image, called to end aid to Ukraine, and defied COVID-19 restrictions. He has also been accused of legitimising harassment of journalists and engaging in hate speech (at the expense of a new journalist protection programme in the country).

Why does it matter?

Although large companies like Google have launched initiatives to stamp out misinformation in Slovakia, the country is still at risk of falling under Russian influence, according to President Zuzana Čaputová. She was also part of a group of Eastern and Central European leaders who wrote an open letter to tech companies, urging them to take concrete action against disinformation.

Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton warned of ‘hybrid warfare happening on social media’ in April when discussing the role of Very Large Online Platforms (VLOPs) within the DSA framework. This is quite possibly the first considerable challenge the new EU policy has faced since it took effect on August 25, and a lot rides on the success of the results.