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The European Commission is proposing measures to tackle disinformation online, including an 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.

The recent Facebook/Cambridge Analytica revelations demonstrated exactly how personal data can be exploited in electoral contexts, and are a timely reminder that more is needed to secure resilient democratic processes. Today the European Commission is taking steps forward in the fight against disinformation to ensure the protection of European values and security.

Vice-President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip said: “Disinformation is not new as an instrument of political influence. New technologies, especially digital, have expanded its reach via the online environment to undermine our democracy and society. Since online trust is easy to break but difficult to rebuild, industry needs to work together with us on this issue. Online platforms have an important role to play in fighting disinformation campaigns organised by individuals and countries who aim to threaten our democracy.”

Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, said: “We are calling on all actors, in particular platforms and social networks who have a clear responsibility, to act on the basis of an action plan aiming at a common European approach so that citizens are empowered and effectively protected against disinformation. We will closely monitor the progress made and may propose further actions by December, including measures of regulatory nature, should the results prove unsatisfactory.”

Commissioner for the Security Union Sir Julian King said: “The weaponisation of on-line fake news and disinformation poses a serious security threat to our societies. The subversion of trusted channels to peddle pernicious and divisive content requires a clear-eyed response based on increased transparency, traceability and accountability. Internet platforms have a vital role to play in countering the abuse of their infrastructure by hostile actors and in keeping their users, and society, safe.”

Based on the independent 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 has published a study on fake news and disinformation. It points 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 states that market power and revenue streams have shifted from news publishers to platform operators who have the data to match readers, articles and ads.

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