Have you heard that the EU plans to ban snowmen?, or that Angela Merkel is Adolf Hitler’s daughter?
Of course, it’s not true, but these are two examples of fake news that can be found on the internet. Disinformation manipulates citizens and seeks to undermine their trust in democratic systems
The phenomenon of false, misleading news stories is at least as old as the printing press. However, social media and their personalisation tools have accelerated the spread of rumours, hoaxes and conspiracy theories. When designed to deceive users for political purposes, digital gossip falls under ‘disinformation’ – the dissemination of verifiably false or misleading information which non-state and state actors can use to intentionally deceive the public and cause public harm.
EU steps up anti-disinformation efforts to protect democracy
The EU is taking some concrete steps against false news that is designed to destabilise European democracies. The Facebook data breach disclosure reignited the ongoing debate on the role of online platforms in the spread of conspiracy theories, disinformation and false news.
In its June 2017 resolution on online platforms and the digital single market, the European Parliament had already called on the Commission to analyse the legal framework with regard to ‘fake news’, and to look into the possibility of legislative intervention to limit the dissemination of fake content.
In October 2017, the Commission launched a public consultation on fake news and online disinformation. It also set up a high-level expert group (HLEG) representing academia, online platforms, news media and civil society. The Commission’s April 2018 communication on ‘Tackling online disinformation: a European approach” took recommendations of the HLEG into account and proposed an EU-wide Code of Practice – signed by the online platforms – to ensure transparency by explaining how algorithms select news, as well as improving the visibility and accessibility of reliable news.
The communication also recommended support for an independent network of fact-checkers as well as actions to boost quality journalism and media literacy.
EU action Plan against disinformation
The Commission and the HR presented an ‘action plan against disinformation’ with specific proposals for a coordinated European response. The action plan builds on existing Commission initiatives as well as the work of the East StratCom Task Force, set up in 2015 under the European External Action Service. This action plan focuses on four main areas:
Improved detection. Increasing the EEAS’s budget for strategic communication to address and raise awareness about disinformation
Coordinated response. Facilitating data sharing and to providing alerts on disinformation threats in real time.
Online platforms and industry. Effectively implementing the commitments and focusing on actions that are urgent for the European elections. This includes deleting fake accounts, labelling messaging activities by ‘bots’ and cooperating with fact-checkers and researchers to detect disinformation and make fact-checked content more visible.
Raising awareness and empowering citizens. Promoting media literacy as well as support national teams of independent fact-checkers and researchers to detect and expose disinformation on social networks.
The so-called East Stratcom Task Force documents what disinformation looks like and debunks the myths spread to confuse citizens. The Task Force also promotes the European Union and its policies in that region and supports genuine journalism in the former Soviet countries.
It also has a website, a key resource for those interested in disinformation. The euvsdisinfo.eu features:
- The latest news and analysis on the topic, including inside stories on how trolling and manipulation in media really work.
- The Disinformation Review, the weekly newsletter on pro-Kremlin disinformation that gives the overview of the latest fakes published and indicates trends.
- A database of over 3000 cases of disinformation that is easily searchable.
- Reading lists that cover essential material for delving deeper into specific issues of disinformation, such as the downed flight MH17.
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