EU drafts guidelines as it urges Big Tech to protect democratic elections

PARIS (Reuters) - The European Union's executive has started to compile guidelines for Big Tech platforms to prevent disinformation, hate speech and counterfeits from disrupting the process of democratic elections.

Over a third of the world's population will go to the polls this year at a time when the power and influence of tech giants is under growing scrutiny.

"These are the first-ever guidelines...and aim to present Very Large Online Platforms and Search Engines with best practices," the Commission said on Thursday.

The EU launched a public consultation at the start of this week, giving parties until March 7 to give feedback. EU policymakers want tech giants to come up with risk mitigation measures, particularly concerning the threat from AI-generated content.

There will be national elections in Portugal, Belgium, Croatia, Romania and Austria this year, together with European Union parliamentary elections in June.

U.S. presidential elections are also due later this year, as well as ballots in Mexico, South Korea, Ghana and many other countries.

"We know the electoral period in the EU is going to be targeted by hybrid attacks and foreign interference of all kinds," EU Commissioner Thierry Breton said on Wednesday as he urged tech platforms to do their part to protect free and fair elections.

Earlier this month, the EU sent requests to over a dozen tech companies, including Amazon, Apple, Meta and Alphabet's Google, asking the firms what measures they have taken to give researchers access to data that could be relevant to the upcoming EU and national elections.

(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel; editing by Christina Fincher)