Slovak will vote in parliamentary elections on 30 September, the first to take place since the entering into force of the EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA) which includes obligations for social media platforms to combat political misinformation, hate speech, and the use of these tactics for electoral manipulation.
EURACTIV takes a look at the steps the main social media platforms have taken ahead of the vote in line with the new rules.
As of 25 August, platforms with over 45 million monthly are subject to new obligations under the DSA, the EU’s flagship law, which amongst other things, aims to prevent the spread of hate speech and disinformation online.
In focus, as Slovakia approaches its elections, are Facebook, YouTube and TikTok, in particular, due to their popularity with voters and use for political messaging.
In addition, Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton expressed concerns in April about “hybrid warfare happening on social media” during Slovak elections.
Before the implementation of the DSA, social media in Slovakia have been dealing with multiple cases of illegal content online, ranging from COVID-19 disinformation, misinformation about NATO soldiers, pro-Russian propaganda, misleading messages about an alleged “police coup”, to the spread of hate speech.
Earlier in August, 56 civil society organisations voiced concerns about election manipulation to the European Commission, calling on the EU executives to ensure there are sufficient content moderators working in each European language. Slovak is the native language of less than 2% of the EU population.
YouTube told EURACTIV it implements moderation policies “across dozens of languages, including Slovak”. Facebook says it has moderation teams working with 70 languages, while TikTok ensures it supports 40 languages thanks to partnering with “15 fact-checking organisations around the world”.
As soon as a piece of content is flagged to Facebook, YouTube and TikTok, their internal moderation teams check for potential breaches of their “community rules”, which stipulate restrictions on speech that can be deemed racist, xenophobic, or homophobic.
YouTube, for instance, will suspend an account that violates its policies for one week on the first violation, two weeks if another violation occurs within 90 days and terminate the channel if there is a third violation.
All platforms have processes against misinformation. TikTok’s guidelines, for example, “do not allow coordinated attempts to influence or sway public opinion”.
By means of a second check, experts from the three platforms always conduct a cross-over examination with national and EU laws on hate crimes.
In June, the Slovak far-right channel Kulturblog was banned by YouTube in June for breaking the site’s community rules. However, TikTok has yet to take the same measures on the channel.
A YouTube spokesperson told EURACTIV that the video-sharing platform was invested in “supporting elections with a multi-layered approach, including the upcoming elections in Slovakia”.
All three platforms put in place transparency measures regarding removing online content, which is now mandatory by EU law.
YouTube publicly advertises its Google’s Treat Analysis Group Bulletin, explaining, for example, that 14 Slovak YouTube channels were terminated in June because of a coordinated influence operation from Russia.
Facebook does the same in its biannual Transparency Report, where the Slovak page states it “restricted access to 162 items that represented Russian state-controlled media sources due to European Union-imposed sanctions”.
TikTok’s “Community Guideline Enforcement” reports are also available online, but, for now, do not give data granularity for Slovakia.
According to a European spokesperson, the DSA will “impose a series of other transparency obligations” by 30 October.
These encompass detailed information on content moderation, including the human resources dedicated to such processes, which must be broken down in each official language of the EU member states.
By 24 February 2024, it will become mandatory under the DSA for platforms to sign partnerships with fact-checking organisations.
Facebook and YouTube proactively expanded their fact-checking programs with third parties in Slovakia, partnering with Demagog.cz, which employs native Slovak speakers.
This expert non-partisan organisation will flag harmful content to Facebook and YouTube, which moderation teams will prioritise.
On its dedicated webpage on election integrity, TikTok states that it neither allows “paid political promotion, political advertising, or fundraising by politicians and political parties” nor “misinformation about civic and electoral processes, regardless of intent”.
In July, Facebook launched its Facts In Focus campaign in Slovakia to help inform people on how to identify and respond to misinformation. Similarly, last September, YouTube created its Hit Pause campaign to provide Slovak viewers with tips on identifying manipulation tactics.
[Edited by Alina Clasen/Nathalie Weatherald]
Read more with EURACTIV