EU justice chief urges U.S. tech giants to halt virus clickbaits

Credit: REUTERS/Hannah Mckay

By Foo Yun Chee and Gabriela Baczynska

BRUSSELS, April 2 (Reuters) - EU justice chief Vera Jourova on Thursday criticised U.S. tech giants such as Google GOOGL.O and Facebook FB.O for making money off coronavirus-related fake news instead of putting in more efforts to stop the deluge.

With millions of people confined to their homes due to lockdowns to counter the spread of the virus, social media and online platforms have seen the volume of news on their sites and user traffic soared.

That has in turn sparked alarm and criticism because of the flood of disinformation.

Jourova, who last week held a conference call with Facebook, Twitter Inc TWTR.N, Google, Microsoft MSFT.O and Mozilla, said their efforts to date were inadequate.

The companies last week told Jourova that they had removed large quantities of false and harmful content, the bulk of which related to health, and taken measures to remove ads related to protective equipment, such as masks, although there were still gaps. They also pledged to step up measures to increase users' access to authoritative sources of information.

"We still see that the major platforms continue to monetise and incentivise disinformation and harmful content about the pandemic by hosting online ads," Jourova told Reuters in a phone interview, citing the example of one such ad misrepresenting migraines as the cause of the virus.

"This should be stopped. The financial disincentives from clickbait disinformation and profiteering scams also should be stopped," she said.

Facebook referred to its March 24 announcement, which said the coronavirus outbreak was undercutting sales of the advertising that accounts for nearly all of its revenue even as more users spend time on the social network.

Jourova said the companies should also share more data with scientists to fight the virus.

"We would like the researchers to have more data from the platforms, to do the proper analysis of the trends," Jourova said.

She will meet the companies again in a month for a progress report.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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