Brussels warned social media giants Alphabet, TikTok and Meta they must do more to protect Slovakia’s election from foreign interference — or face potential hefty fines.
In a series of meetings in Bratislava, the European Commission and the Slovakian government told the companies to throw extra resources at stamping out hate speech, disinformation and pro-Russia propaganda in the run-up to the September 30 vote.
There are growing concerns among European and Slovak regulators that disinformation and pro-Kremlin ideology are spreading among local social media users, including supporters of Robert Fico, the country’s controversial former prime minister. Fico has called for ending military support to Ukraine and his party is currently ahead in the polls.
Two European Commission officials, a Slovakian government policymaker, and three tech executives were granted anonymity to discuss the confidential meetings, which took place during the week of September 11.
The Eastern European country’s upcoming vote marks a critical first test for the EU’s new digital rules. Under the bloc’s Digital Services Act, social media platforms must show how they are actively removing illegal content and taking down foreign propaganda. If they do not, they can face fines of up to 6 percent of their annual global revenue.
Executives from Elon Musk’s Twitter — now known as X — were also invited to the discussions but failed to attend, according to two of the individuals cited above. The company did not respond to a request for comment. Meta, Alphabet and TikTok declined to comment about the meetings in Bratislava.
Tech executives described the discussions with EU regulators and government officials as constructive.
During the meetings, the companies highlighted their existing local content moderation teams and increased collaboration with Slovakian fact-checking groups. These firms also pointed out they have made internal changes to tackle potentially harmful content.
Still, the upcoming Slovakian election will show if Europe’s new social media rules have teeth. The country’s populist Smer-SD party is leading in the polls, according to POLITICO’s data. If it succeeds in winning the most parliamentary seats, Slovakia could reduce its support for Ukraine.
SLOVAKIA NATIONAL PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS
For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.
Several nationalist parties are openly hostile to ongoing support for Kyiv, 19 months after Russia’s full-scale invasion. A vocal minority of Slovakian social media users also routinely share pro-Kremlin talking points about Kyiv’s ties to fascism and bogus reports of Ukrainian soldiers surrendering to Russian troops, according to a recent report from the Central European Digital Media Observatory, a European Commission-funded group.
Online attacks aimed at Middle Eastern and Ukrainian refugees, as well as abuse targeting the Slovakian LGBTQ+ community, have spread rapidly ahead of next week’s vote, according to data compiled by Reset, a nonprofit organization focused on social media accountability.
Following pressure from American lawmakers, Ľuboš Blaha, from the Smer-SD political party, was suspended from Facebook last year for breaking the company’s hate speech rules. Yet his posts from Telegram, the digital messenger, are still regularly shared on Smer-SD’s separate Facebook page. A Meta spokesperson said such reposting did not violate Blaha’s suspension.
Europe’s revamped social media laws will also be tested during Poland’s parliamentary election next month. That campaign has already stoked online tensions between rival political groups, with both sides accusing each other of dirty tricks.
“We will assess the concrete effects of these measures to see whether they are enough or more needs to be done,” Thierry Breton, the EU’s internal markets commissioner in charge of the Digital Services Act, told POLITICO. “Integrity of elections is one of my top priorities for DSA enforcement.”