European Commission launches Action Plan to counter disinformation in Europe and beyond

The Commission says that it is launching the Action Plan to “protect its democratic systems and public debates and in view of the 2019 European elections as well as a number of national and local elections that will be held in Member States by 2020”.

In April 2018 the Commission outlined its approach, including self-regulatory tools, to tackle disinformation online, including a EU-wide Code of Practice against Disinformation, support for an independent network of fact-checkers, and tools to stimulate quality journalism. On 16 October, a Code of Practice was signed by Facebook, Google, Twitter and Mozilla, as well as a trade association representing online platforms and trade associations representing the advertising industry and advertisers.

The Action Plan contains “concrete measures” to tackle disinformation, including the creation of a Rapid Alert System and measures to ensure close monitoring of implementation of the Code of Practice. The Action Plan also includes proposals to increase resources devoted to the issue.

The Action Plan focuses on four areas key to build up the EU’s capabilities and strengthen cooperation between Member States and the EU:

  • Improved detection: Strategic Communication Task Forces and the EU Hybrid Fusion Cell in the European External Action Service (EEAS), as well as EU delegations in neighbouring countries, will be reinforced with significant additional specialised staff and data analysis tools. The EEAS’s strategic communication budget to address disinformation and raise awareness about its adverse impact is expected to more than double, from €1.9 million in 2018 to €5 million in 2019. EU Member States will be expected to complement these measures by reinforcing their own means to deal with disinformation;
  • Coordinated response: a dedicated Rapid Alert System will be set up among the EU institutions and Member States to facilitate the sharing of data and assessment of disinformation campaigns and to provide alerts on disinformation threats in real time. The EU institutions and Member States will also focus on proactive and objective communication on Union values and policies;
  • Online platforms and industry: the signatories to the Code of Practice will be expected to swiftly and effectively implement the commitments given under the Code, focusing on the urgent action needed in relation to the European elections in 2019. This includes: ensuring transparency of political advertising; stepping up efforts to close active fake accounts; labelling non-human interactions (messages spread automatically by bots); and co-operating with fact-checkers and academic researchers to detect disinformation campaigns and make fact-checked content more visible and widespread. The Commission, with the help of the European group of regulators in charge of audiovisual media services, will closely monitor implementation of these commitments; and
  • Raising awareness and empowering citizens: in addition to targeted awareness campaigns, the EU institutions and Member States will promote media literacy through dedicated programmes. Support will be provided to national multidisciplinary teams of independent fact-checkers and researchers to detect and expose disinformation campaigns across social networks.

With an eye on the European elections, the Commission says that the Rapid Alert System will be set up by March 2019. This will be complemented by further strengthening relevant resources.

The signatories of the Code of Practice will have to provide a first implementation update to the Commission by the end of 2018, which the Commission will then publish in January 2019. Between January and May signatories will have to report to the Commission on a monthly basis. The Commission will also carry out a comprehensive assessment of implementation of the Code of Practice in its first 12 months. Should implementation and the impact of the Code prove unsatisfactory, the Commission says that it may propose further measures, including of a regulatory nature. To read the Commission’s press release in full, click here. To download the Commission’s Factsheet, click here.