Exclusive-Google to launch anti-misinformation campaign ahead of EU elections

By Thomson Reuters Feb 15, 2024 | 6:07 PM

By Martin Coulter

LONDON (Reuters) – Google is preparing to launch an anti-misinformation campaign across five countries in the European Union (EU), the company told Reuters ahead of the bloc’s parliamentary elections and tougher new rules tackling online content.

In June, EU citizens will elect a new European Parliament to pass policies and laws in the region and lawmakers fear the spread of misinformation online could sway voters.

France, Poland and Germany accused Russia on Monday of putting together an elaborate network of websites to spread pro-Russian propaganda.

Europe’s Digital Services Act, which comes into force this week, will require very large online platforms and search engines to do more to tackle illegal content and risks to public security.

From March, Google’s internal Jigsaw unit which operates to tackle threats to societies, will run a series of animated ads across platforms such as TikTok and YouTube in five EU countries: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, and Poland.

Building on previous campaigns the company has tested in Germany and central Europe, Jigsaw said the new project was an opportunity to reach citizens in countries with some of the largest number of voters in the EU, utilising the company’s local expertise in these regions.

The ads will feature so-called “prebunking” techniques, developed in partnership with researchers at the Universities of Cambridge and Bristol, aimed at helping viewers identify manipulative content before encountering it.

Viewers watching the ads on YouTube will be asked to fill in a short multiple-choice questionnaire, designed to gauge what they have learned about misinformation.

“We’ve spent so much time having these really polarised debates. Our democracy is at stake, and the temperature just keeps getting higher and higher,” said Beth Goldberg, head of research at Jigsaw.

“Prebunking is the only technique, at least that I’ve seen, that works equally effectively across the political spectrum,” Goldberg said.

Other measures to control misinformation like fact checking can add to polarisation because they come after the information has already spread, she added.

Last month, an investigation conducted by the EEAS (European Union External Action Service) uncovered 750 incidents of misleading information being deliberately spread by foreign actors, many voicing support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Jigsaw’s ads will be translated into all 24 official EU languages, the company said.

The campaign will run for at least one month, with a view to extend it based on reach and performance. Results from the campaign, including survey responses and the number of people reached, are expected to be published in summer 2024.

(Reporting by Martin Coulter; Editing by Matt Scuffham and Elaine Hardcastle)