EU demands Meta, TikTok lay out efforts to curb Israel-Hamas war disinformation

Bloc continues its heightened scrutiny of social media giants, which has included highlighting dangers of Hamas potentially airing videos featuring execution of hostages

FILE - Attendees visit the Meta booth at the Game Developers Conference 2023 in San Francisco, March 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)
FILE - Attendees visit the Meta booth at the Game Developers Conference 2023 in San Francisco, March 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

LONDON — The European Union ratcheted up its scrutiny of Big Tech companies on Thursday with demands for Meta and TikTok to detail their efforts to curb illegal content and disinformation during the Israel-Hamas war.

The European Commission, the 27-nation bloc’s executive branch, formally requested that the social media companies provide information on how they’re complying with sweeping new digital rules aimed at cleaning up online platforms.

The commission asked Meta and TikTok to explain the measures they have taken to reduce the risk of spreading and amplifying terrorist and violent content, hate speech and disinformation.

Under the EU’s new rules, which took effect in August, the biggest tech companies face extra obligations to stop a wide range of illegal content from flourishing on their platforms or face the threat of hefty fines.

The new rules, known as the Digital Services Act (DSA), are being put to the test by the Israel-Hamas war. Photos and videos have flooded social media of the carnage alongside posts from users pushing false claims and misrepresenting videos from other events.

Brussels issued its first formal request under the DSA last week to Elon Musk’s social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

On October 7, some 2,500 Hamas terrorists blasted through the Israeli border fence, streamed into Israel via land, sea and air under a barrage of thousands of rockets, and massacred some 1,400 people, the vast majority of them civilians. Terrorists also took more than 200 hostages of all ages into Gaza and are holding them captive.

People walk near posters featuring Israelis being held hostage by Hamas in Gaza, outside the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, October 18, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Some Israeli and American schools have warned that the Hamas terror group may soon begin sharing graphic videos of the Israelis and foreign nationals they have captured and urged parents to delete TikTok from their children’s phones.

European Commissioner Thierry Breton, the bloc’s digital enforcer, has previously sent warning letters to the three platforms, as well as YouTube, highlighting the risks that the war poses.

“In our exchanges with the platforms, we have specifically asked them to prepare for the risk of live broadcasts of executions by Hamas — an imminent risk from which we must protect our citizens — and we are seeking assurances that the platforms are well prepared for such possibilities,” Breton said in a speech Wednesday.

Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, and video-sharing app TikTok didn’t respond immediately to email requests for comment.

The companies have until Wednesday to respond to questions related to their crisis response. They also face a second deadline of November 8 for responses on protecting election integrity and, in TikTok’s case, child safety.

Depending on their responses, Brussels could decide to open formal proceedings against Meta or TikTok and impose fines for “incorrect, incomplete, or misleading information,” the commission said.

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