Facebook should address the dangerous spread of pro-Russian disinformation on its platforms in Slovakia, members of the US Congress wrote in their letter to Mark Zuckerberg earlier this week.
Members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence travelled to Slovakia in April and found that the disinformation threat has grown more acute in recent weeks, following the outbreak of the war in Ukraine.
The government had been warning the Slovak population about disinformation being used as a weapon before as well as after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The government of Eduard Heger hastily passed legislation in late February, just days after Russia invaded Ukraine, allowing the authorities to temporarily shut down "sources of malicious content". This, however, does not involve Facebook posts.
“The Committee is deeply concerned by the continued presence of harmful disinformation and pro-Russian propaganda on Slovak Facebook, and urges Facebook immediately to ensure that all pro-Russian disinformation is quickly evaluated, fact-checked, and labeled, downranked, or removed in accordance with Facebook’s public pledges and stated policies,” the Intelligence Committee wrote in their letter to Zuckerberg, signed by its Chairman Adam Schiff and congressmen Mike Quigley, Peter Welch, Sean Patrick Maloney, and Jason Crow.
They mention their conversations with Slovak government officials and civil society groups about the ongoing proliferation of pro-Russian disinformation on Facebook, spread by a group of identifiable pro-Russian actors during elections, throughout the pandemic, and now against the backdrop of the war.
"Despite multiple efforts by the Slovak and United States governments to bring the matter to Facebook’s attention, to the Committee’s knowledge, the company has yet to take appropriate action," the congressmen wrote.
They cited public reports as indicating that Facebook has only one fact-checker dedicated to Slovakia.
"The Slovak government is rightly troubled by these developments. One senior Slovak defense official described Facebook as ‘the main arena for Kremlin propaganda.’ Yet despite Facebook’s awareness of the issue, pervasive and false content seems to remain on Facebook’s platform."
Facebook has agreed to brief the committee in the coming days, including on the content the Slovak government has brought to Facebook’s attention as harmful disinformation; any investigation Facebook has undertaken into the actors identified as spreading pro-Russian disinformation about the war; Facebook’s plan for proactively identifying harmful disinformation in Eastern Europe going forward; and the specific number of fact-checkers, personnel, and other resources Facebook will devote to identifying harmful disinformation on the war.
Even though public opinion has slightly shifted after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and more people now perceive Russia as the aggressor, pro-Russian narratives remain strong among sections of the population.