EU investigates Meta over fears of election interference and foreign disinformation

By Brian Fung, CNN

CNN  — 

European Union officials are investigating Meta over concerns the company hasn’t done enough to protect upcoming EU elections or to combat foreign disinformation on its platforms, setting up the possibility of steep fines or other penalties.

The new probe is focused on Meta’s handling of advertising by scammers and foreign election meddlers, said an EU source familiar with the investigation; the source was granted anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter. The probe focuses as well on a decision to shut down an analysis tool widely used by researchers and journalists to monitor Meta’s platforms.

A driving factor in the investigation is a concern about Meta’s ability to respond to Russian disinformation campaigns that could undermine election integrity, the source added.

The investigation is the latest example of European regulators flexing their muscle against US tech giants following the passage of a flurry of new laws designed to rein them in.

The EU source said the investigation highlights apparent violations of Europe’s signature law governing online platforms, the Digital Services Act. If confirmed, the violations could lead to significant fines of up to 6 percent of Meta’s global revenue.

As part of the probe, the EU source said they are also looking into whether decisions by Meta to rank political content lower in users’ feeds may violate the DSA’s transparency rules. They added that Meta’s tools for users to report illegal content don’t appear to align with the DSA’s requirements, either.

The investigation comes after Meta submitted required materials to the European Commission last fall outlining how it manages perceived risks linked to its products. This investigation, however, reflects EU skepticism that Meta has successfully managed those risks.

A key aspect of the investigation targets Meta’s decision to sunset CrowdTangle, a once-popular tool used by civil society groups to track trending conversations on Facebook and Instagram.

Without it, the EU source said, users and researchers will have less visibility into what is happening on Meta services and could have a harder time detecting foreign election interference.

Meta said earlier this year that CrowdTangle will no longer be available after August 14.

Ending support for CrowdTangle without a good enough replacement, the EU source said, could make it harder to track misinformation and voter supression, hurting elections overall.

In a statement, a Meta spokesperson said the company would cooperate with the probe.

“We have a well-established process for identifying and mitigating risks on our platforms,” the spokesperson said. “We look forward to continuing our cooperation with the European Commission and providing them with further details of this work.”

This story has been updated to include more precise attribution and to include additional reporting.

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