Digital Bridge: Spanish midterm misinformation — Europe’s antitrust headache — G20 crypto push – POLITICO Europe

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WELCOME BACK TO ANOTHER DIGITAL BRIDGE. I’m Mark Scott, POLITICO’s chief technology correspondent, and as I count down to a week’s vacation starting Friday, this is how I’m feeling while trying to get everything done before I down tools. Don’t worry. My esteemed colleagues will be on deck for next week’s newsletter.
Enough with the vacation talk. Let’s get down to business:
— A Spaniard, Argentinian and Venezuelan are trying to fill a void in the United States for Spanish-language fact-checking.
— The European Union is one step closer to enforcing its new digital competition playbook. It won’t be easy.
G20 finance policymakers have a warning for crypto bros: We’re coming for you.
THERE’S LESS THAN A MONTH TO GO before Americans go to the polls in the upcoming midterm elections. There are still a lot of falsehoods being shared by English-speaking voters (everything from U.S. President Joe Biden is a Communist to all Republicans supported the January 6 riots). But when it comes to Spanish speakers, the level of misinformation and — more important — how it’s debunked by platforms and independent fact-checkers is still exponentially higher compared with the English-speaking world.
That’s where Factchequeado comes in. Started as a collaboration between Spanish fact-checking organization Maldita and its Argentinian counterpart Chequeado, the newly-created organization is trying to fill a void for the Latino community that remains significantly underserved by both the social media companies and outside misinformation-busting groups. The goal is simple: Provide a one-stop-shop for debunking online falsehoods to protect Spanish speakers from consuming lies ahead of the upcoming election.
“We call it the Silk Road of misinformation for Spanish-speaking countries,” Clara Jiménez Cruz, co-founder of Maldita, told Digital Bridge. “We all consume the same kind of content. We saw with the pandemic that any kind of misinformation that we saw here in Spain, in two weeks got to Argentina to Mexico to Colombia and to the rest of the Spanish-speaking countries.” A lot of this material is shared via WhatsApp groups, often between friends and family, compared with more public social media networks within the English-speaking world.
While other organizations like have their own Spanish-language fact-checking efforts, Jiménez Cruz and Chequeado’s editor-in-chief Laura Zommer struggled to find a broad coalition of Spanish-language fact-checkers in the U.S. So with some funding from Google, they created one themselves. Now, they have 25 groups, including big names like Univision, across 13 different U.S. states working together to share debunks, swap notes on trending conspiracy theories and spread fact-checks across like-minded organizations.
Every Thursday, the groups meet on Zoom for a “cafecito,” or gathering to update each other on what everyone is seeing — both related to the midterm elections and other misinformation topics that are doing the rounds. “We are monitoring, with our with our team, every day on Facebook, Twitter, TikTok — will we have seen a lot of misinformation on TikTok, for example — and we decide, ‘OK, we can look at this misinformation, investigate it and prepare a note on it,” Tamoa Calzadilla, Factchequeado’s Venezuela-born managing editor, told me.
All fact-checks are shared, free of charge, with the groups. In recent weeks, they have debunked falsehoods against U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and fellow American politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Currently, about half of the fact-checks are linked to politics. But Zommer, one of Factchequeado’s founders, said the organization was equally crowdsourcing requests from the Latino community, including whether people should wash store-bought salads, to build trust with their Spanish-speaking audience.
Will it be enough to protect these voters ahead of next month’s election? Probably not. My own social media search quickly found falsehoods, in Spanish, directed at trying to stop the Latino community from voting, as well as claims that first-generation immigrants were more likely to commit crimes or undermine American life. “Platforms aren’t paying enough attention,” Jiménez Cruz told me. “They pay attention to English and where governments force them to pay attention. If we make them pay more attention to Spanish in the U.S., that is going to benefit Spanish-speaking countries in the rest of the world.”
SO THERE YOU HAVE IT. On Wednesday, the EU published the official text of its Digital Markets Act, or update to the bloc’s competition standards. The rules, which come into force in 2024, are an attempt to keep pace with the online world. It will define certain Big Tech companies like Alphabet and Amazon as so-called gatekeepers, and impose restrictions on these firms so that they can’t scoop up rivals in adjacent industries. Call it enforcement for dummies, or trying to stop potentially harmful takeovers before they even happen.
Well, that’s the theory. Now comes the hard part. First, Brussels needs to determine which tech giants should be gatekeepers. Roughly 20 will be defined in this way over the next 18 months, and tetchy negotiations are already underway between industry lawyers and Commission officials. There’s a lot at stake. Depending on how gatekeeper status is defined, certain companies will either face significant restrictions to future growth or gain a head start on rivals hoping to buy the next big thing.
Battles are already looming. Companies like Apple and Alphabet, the parent company of Google, are expected to fight tooth-and-nail over how these definitions are determined, while Meta — the artist formerly known as Facebook — is taking a more hands-off approach, according to three officials involved in those discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. Two of those individuals suggested companies would likely appeal whatever gatekeeper status they were labeled with.
For Apple and Alphabet, they realize some of their operations like mobile operating systems or online search, respectively, will fall into scope. But what they are trying to do is limit such regulatory oversight to some, but not all, of their digital empires like emerging areas like gaming (for Apple) or health care (or Alphabet). Meta — whose business is more focused on social media and advertising (excluding its recent punt to the “metaverse”) — is unlikely to be so litigious.
Alongside the pending legal challenges are the practicalities of having to enforce so-called ex ante regulation (or oversight before wrongdoing occurs) versus the current competition model where enforcers only fine and/or impose remedies after a lengthy investigation. The Commission is hoping to hire up to 120 new officials to police its new rulebook. But that’s already looking like a too-low number, given the complexities of enforcing a brand-new set of future-looking rules.
“It’s a big problem for us attracting the right skills,” Olivier Guersent, the head of the Commission’s competition department, told an audience in Prague this week. That’s an understatement. Lawyers with digital competition backgrounds can easily make double, if not triple, the salaries working for Big Tech companies. And the technical skills needed to keep tabs on these digital giants, too, are in short supply globally.
To make matters even more complex is how this antitrust enforcement work will be split up between the Commission’s competition agency, known as DG COMP, and a separate entity, known as DG CONNECT, which also has oversight of the bloc’s separate, new online content rules. That body has no enforcement track record. Internal tension between how both parts of the Brussels apparatus will play nice with each other is already starting to bubble to the surface. Such friction is inevitable. But it will make turning the Digital Markets Act from text to reality maddeningly complex.
THE WORLD’S FINANCIAL REGULATORS are coming for cryptocurrencies. In a series of papers published Tuesday ahead of meetings within the G20 group of countries, the so-called Financial Stability Board, or FSB, laid out what it believed was increased scrutiny after lots of these new-age financial assets tumbled in value so far this year. It comes down to this: greater transparency on how these things are traded; more supervision over how these markets operate; and enhanced governance and risk management to make crypto more like a traditional financial instrument.
“The current ‘crypto winter’ has reinforced our assessment of existing structural vulnerabilities in these markets,” Klaas Knot, the Dutch chair of the FSB, wrote to G20 finance ministers and central bank governors in reference to the significant sell-off (see above chart) of cryptocurrencies. “Concerns about the risks they pose to financial stability are therefore likely to come back to the fore sooner rather than later, as are public expectations that policymakers have in place a robust international framework to identify, monitor and address those risks.”
ANOTHER WEEK, ANOTHER DATA FLOWS-focused section in Digital Bridge. This week we’re highlighting Alex Greenstein, director of the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield program at the U.S. Department of Commerce. Greenstein is the official in charge of making sure the trains run on time on this transatlantic data agreement.
It’s not been easy. While thousands of companies rely on Privacy Shield (soon to be renamed EU-U.S. Data Privacy Framework, not “Privacy Sword“), the legal limbo surrounding the pact has made Greenstein’s job difficult, at best. Before joining Commerce, he worked on communications and internet policy at the U.S. State Department.
“We definitely recognize that there has been a lot of instability in data transfers and that companies are operating in an environment of uncertainty right now,” he said earlier this year in reference to Europe’s top court invalidating Privacy Shield back in 2020. “We recognize this is having an impact on U.S. companies but also EU companies.”
“After my first day on Twitter, there’s one question on my mind. Where is my good friend, @realDonaldTrump?” Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s rightwing prime minister, wrote on Twitter after joining the platform this week. As of October 13, he had 66,000 followers.
— The White House executive order on transatlantic data flows gives the U.S. Department of Justice, for the first time, the powers to view European surveillance practices and revoke U.S. data access if such EU-U.S. flows of personal information are put in jeopardy. Read the full text here.
— The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development outlined a new transparency framework for crypto-assets as global governments move to cement control of these highly-volatile financial instruments. Here are the recommendations.
— Compared with other social media platforms, TikTok videos are dominated by those that go viral. The company’s content algorithm plays a large role in how such material is spread and the average TikTok user uploads more content compared with someone using YouTube, according to a study from academics at the University of Konstanz, Penn State and the University of Amsterdam.
— The United Kingdom’s Central Digital Data Office and Center for Data Ethics and Innovation published an open-source version of their algorithmic transparency standard so that public bodies can share information without outsiders on their use of algorithmic tools. Take a look here.
China has predominantly taken a positive view of its relations with Nordic countries when it comes to framing its online narratives about relations between Beijing and the Nordic capitals, argues Viesturs Bērziņš for the NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence.
— The White House released its national security strategy and there are a lot of tech topics to get your teeth into, including the role of the EU-U.S. Trade and Technology Council and the so-called Quad group of Asia Pacific countries. Take a look.
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