HomeInsightsCommission publishes Communication on tackling online disinformation and proposes EU-wide Code of Practice

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The Commission is proposing measures to tackle disinformation online, including a EU-wide Code of Practice on disinformation, support for an independent network of fact-checkers, and a series of actions to stimulate quality journalism and promote media literacy.

Based on the report published in March 2018 by the High-Level Group on Fake News and Online Disinformation, as well as wider consultations carried out over the past six months, the Commission defines disinformation as “verifiably false or misleading information that is created, presented and disseminated for economic gain or to intentionally deceive the public, and may cause public harm.

In the latest Eurobarometer survey, 83% of respondents said that fake news represents a danger to democracy. Respondents were particularly concerned by intentional disinformation aimed at influencing elections and immigration policies. The survey also emphasised the importance of quality media: respondents perceive traditional media as the most trusted source of news (radio 70%, TV 66%, print 63%). Online sources of news and video hosting websites are the least trusted source of news, with trust rates of 26% and 27% respectively.

The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre published a study on fake news and disinformation, which found out that two thirds of consumers of online news prefer to access it through algorithm-driven platforms, such as search engines and news aggregators, and social media websites. It also found that market power and revenue streams have shifted from news publishers to platform operators who have the data to match readers, articles and ads.

To address these concerns and trends, the Commission is proposing a series of measures, including:

  • a Code of Practice on Disinformation: by July, and as a first step, online platforms should develop and follow a common Code of Practice with the aim of:
    • ensuring transparency in relation to sponsored content, in particular political advertising, as well as restricting targeting options for political advertising and reducing revenues for purveyors of disinformation;
    • providing greater clarity about the functioning of algorithms and enabling third party verification;
    • making it easier for users to discover and access different news sources representing alternative viewpoints;
    • introducing measures to identify and close fake accounts and to tackle the issue of automatic bots;
    • enabling fact-checkers, researchers and public authorities to continuously monitor online disinformation;
  • an independent European network of fact-checkers: to establish common working methods, exchange best practices, and work to achieve the broadest possible coverage of factual corrections across the EU;
  • a secure European online platform on disinformation: to support the network of fact-checkers and relevant academic researchers with cross-border data collection and analysis, as well as access to EU-wide data;
  • enhancing media literacy: higher level of media literacy will help Europeans to identify online disinformation and approach online content with a critical eye. The Commission will encourage fact-checkers and civil society organisations to provide educational material to schools and educators and organise a European Week of Media Literacy;
  • support for Member States in ensuring the resilience of elections: against increasingly complex cyber threats, including online disinformation and cyber attacks;
  • promotion of voluntary online identification systems: to improve the traceability and identification of suppliers of information and promote more trust and reliability in online interactions and in information and its sources;
  • support for quality and diversified information: the Commission is calling on Member States to scale up their support of quality journalism to ensure a pluralistic, diverse and sustainable media environment. The Commission will launch a call for proposals in 2018 for the production and dissemination of quality news content on EU affairs through data-driven news media; and
  • a co-ordinated Strategic Communication Policy: drafted by the Commission services, combining current and future EU initiatives on online disinformation with those of Member States, [the policy] will set out outreach activities aimed at countering false narratives about Europe and tackling disinformation within and outside the EU.

The Commission says it will shortly convene a multi-stakeholder forum to provide a framework for efficient co-operation among relevant stakeholders, including online platforms, the advertising industry and major advertisers, and to secure a commitment to coordinate and scale up efforts to tackle disinformation. The forum’s first output should be a EU–wide Code of Practice on Disinformation to be published by July 2018, with a view to having a measurable impact by October 2018.

By December 2018, the Commission says it will report on progress made. The report will also examine the need for further action to ensure the continuous monitoring and evaluation of the outlined actions. To read the Commission’s press release in full and for a link to the Communication and other relevant documents, click here.