The COVID-19 monitoring programme is a transparency measure to ensure public accountability of the signatories of the Code of Practice on Disinformation, set up under the 10 June 2020 Joint Communication “Tackling COVID-19 disinformation - Getting the facts right”.
Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter and TikTok have submitted baseline reports covering their actions from the inception of the crisis through July, and subsequent monthly update reports on their actions to limit the spread of COVID-19 disinformation. Today, we publish the January 2021 reports on actions taken in December 2020.
The reports continue to provide a good overview of the evolution of the measures put in place by the platforms to limit the spread of COVID-19 disinformation.
As the crisis is still unfolding, the Commission services asked the platforms to continue the programme until June 2021, when the situation will be further assessed. At the same time, the signatories were asked to step up their reporting efforts and provide more insights and address shortcomings highlighted in the previous months. This includes, in particular, providing more data on the impact of the measures taken. In view of substantial challenges that vaccines related disinformation causes in the current phase of the pandemic, the new reporting phase will also include a special focus on fighting COVID-19 vaccines disinformation.
Fighting COVID-19 vaccines disinformation
The reports provide updates on the measures taken by the platforms in December 2020 to fight disinformation on COVID-19 vaccines, which is key to ensuring that the vaccination campaigns of the Member States are not undermined by false or misleading information.
- Twitter reported that in December 2020 it expanded its COVID-19 “misleading information policy” to cover misleading information about vaccines, so that Tweets advancing harmful false or misleading narratives about COVID-19 vaccinations will be removed. In addition, in early 2021, Twitter may label or place a warning on Tweets that advance unsubstantiated rumours, disputed claims, as well as incomplete or out-of-context information about vaccines.
- TikTok reported that starting 21 December 2020, it has been rolling out a new vaccine tag for all videos with words or hashtags related to COVID-19 vaccines. A banner is attached to these videos with the message 'Learn more about COVID-19 vaccines '.
- Google reported that it is expanding a feature on Search that surfaces a list of authorised vaccines in users’ locations in response to queries for information on COVID-19 vaccines, and is currently available in 17 EU countries. On YouTube, the update of policy in October to include vaccines has led to the removal of more than 700.000 videos related to dangerous or misleading COVID-19 medical information.
- Microsoft reported that it added official information about vaccines and vaccination on LinkedIn’s own page of authoritative content on COVID-19. The page is also included in the European Daily Rundown, a daily compendium of relevant news provided to LinkedIn users in all 27 EU Member States, with a reach of approximately 9.7 million members.
- Facebook has started removing false claims about the vaccines that have been debunked by public health experts on Facebook and Instagram, and adding authoritative information on vaccines in its COVID-19 panels.
Further reporting for December
The reports also provide further data illustrating these actions and their impact through December 2020. For example:
- Twitter reported that in December 2020 there were 1081 Promoted Tweets that violated COVID-19 advertising policy, however they did not contain misinformation. Also, Twitter reported that the number of live #ThereIsHelp prompts, specifically put in place to help people find clear, credible information on critical issues, more than quadrupled since the beginning of the pandemic. All EU Member States are represented in the 272 prompts active in 99 countries worldwide, covering 12 issue areas.
- TikTok reported lower Click-Through Rates in December for tags applied to videos related to COVID-19 in their four bigger markets: 5.3% in Italy, 3.8% in Spain, 1.5% in France, and 6.3% in Germany.
- During the period from January to December 2020, Google suspended more than 1800 accounts - including Merchant accounts on Shopping – of EU-based advertisers for trying to circumvent its systems, including for COVID-19 related ads and offers. It also took action on over 5500 URLs with COVID-19 related content for harmful health claims.
- In December 2020, Microsoft blocked more than 323.000 advertiser submissions in the EU directly related to COVID-19 and vaccine-related misinformation.
- Facebook re-launched a pop-up on Facebook’s News Feed to direct users to the Facts about COVID-19 section of our COVID-19 Information Center. The section debunks common myths that have been identified by the World Health Organization. Also, it reports that more than 15 million people in the EU visited the COVID-19 Information Center during December 2020.
The reports indicate continuing efforts by the platform signatories to address disinformation around COVID-19 by:
- limiting the appearance or reduce the prominence of content containing false or misleading information;
- increasing efforts to limit manipulative behaviour on their services;
- enhancing collaborations with fact-checkers and researchers, and increasing the visibility of content that is fact-checked;
- taking actions to limit the flow of advertising linked to COVID-19 disinformation
- promoting authoritative information sources through various tools;
- funding media literacy actions and actions to sustain good journalism; and
- providing grants and free ad space to governmental and international organisations to promote campaigns and information on the pandemic.