Disinformation is "verifiably false or misleading information created, presented and disseminated for economic gain or to intentionally deceive the public". It may have far-reaching consequences, cause public harm, be a threat to democratic political and policy-making processes, and may even put the protection of EU citizens' health, security and their environment at risk.
Disinformation erodes trust in institutions and in digital and traditional media and harms our democracies by hampering the ability of citizens to take informed decisions. It can polarise debates, create or deepen tensions in society and undermine electoral systems, and have a wider impact on European security. It impairs freedom of opinion and expression, a fundamental right enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.
Fighting disinformation in the era of social media and online platforms has to be a coordinated effort involving all relevant actors, from institutions to social platforms, from news media to single users.
The Code of Practice on Disinformation
The Code of Practice on disinformation is the first worldwide self-regulatory set of standards to fight disinformation voluntarily signed by platforms, leading social networks, advertisers and advertising industry in October 2018. Sigantories are Facebook, Twitter, Mozilla, Google and associations and members of the advertising industry. Microsoft subscribed to the Code of Practice In May 2019. TikTok joined the code in June 2020.
Signatories of the Code presented detailed roadmaps to take action in 5 areas:
- Disrupting advertising revenues of certain accounts and websites that spread disinformation;
- Making political advertising and issue based advertising more transparent;
- Addressing the issue of fake accounts and online bots;
- Empowering consumers to report disinformation and access different news sources, while improving the visibility and findability of authoritative content;
- Empowering the research community to monitor online disinformation through privacy-compliant access to the platforms' data.
Online platforms and trade associations representing the advertising sector have submitted a baseline report in January 2019 setting out the state of play of the measures taken to comply with their commitments under the Code of Practice on Disinformation.
Between January and May 2019, the European Commission carried out a targeted monitoring of the implementation of the commitments by Facebook, Google and Twitter with particular pertinence to the integrity of the European Parliament elections.
The three platforms were asked to report on a monthly basis on their actions undertaken to improve the scrutiny of ad placements, ensure transparency of political and issue-based advertising and to tackle fake accounts and malicious use of bots (see the intermediate reports for January, February, March, April, and May 2019). We published the platforms and our own annual assessment in September 2019.
The Commission is assessing the effectiveness of the Code following its initial 12-month implementation period. The assessment will cover all commitments of the Code including the signatories’ commitments to empower consumers and the research community.
The European Digital Media Observatory
The European Digital Media Observatory is an CEF funded project aimed at creating a European hub for fact-checkers, academics and other relevant stakeholders to collaborate with each other and actively link with media organisations, media literacy experts, and provide support to policy makers. It has been put in place in the context of the Action plan against disinformation, and the activities are based on pillars:
- Mapping fact-checking organisations
- supporting and coordinating of research activities
- Building a public portal
- ensure secure and privacy-protected access to platforms’ data
- Support to public authorities
The first phase started on 1 June 2020, while a call for tender runs until 5 November 2020, while a call for proposals of 9 million Euro through the Digital Service Infrastructure of the Connect Europe Facility will fund the second phase: the creation of national or multinational research hubs on digital media.
The Action Plan on disinformation
The European Union has outlined an Action Plan to step up efforts to counter disinformation in Europe and beyond focusing on four key areas. This plan serves to build EU's capabilities and strengthen cooperation between Member States by
- improving detection, analysis and exposure of disinformation
- stronger cooperation and joint responses to threats
- enhancing collaboration with online platforms and industry to tackle disinformation
- raising awareness and improve societal resilience
The Communication "Tackling online disinformation: a European approach"
The Communication "Tackling online disinformation: a European approach", presented in April 2018, put forward several tools to tackle the spread and impact of online disinformation in Europe, and ensure the protection of European values and democratic systems. The Communication took into account the extensive consultations with citizens and stakeholders:
- a public consultation to gather the views of a wide range of stakeholders on fake news. The synopsis report is available. The consultation process was complemented with a Eurobarometer public opinion survey to measure and analyse the perceptions and concerns of the European citizens around fake news.
- a multi-stakeholder conference and a colloquium on fake news to define the boundaries of the problem, assess the effectiveness of the solutions already put in place by social media platforms and to agree on key principles for further action.
- a High Level Group (HLG), to advise on policy initiatives to counter fake news and the spread of disinformation online. The Group submitted its final report on the 12 March 2018. You can check the list of members.
- The Code of Practice against Disinformation
- Press release: A Europe that protects: EU reports on progress in fighting disinformation ahead of European Council (14 June 2019)
- Factsheet: Action Plan on Disinformation, Report on progress (14 June 2019)
- Press release: "A Europe that Protects: The EU steps up action against disinformation" (5 December 2018)
- Action plan against disinformation
- Factsheet - overview of the action plan to counter disinformation
- Communication "Tackling online disinformation: a European approach"
- Factsheet on tackling online disinformation
- Synopsis report on public consultation on fake news and online disinformation
- Study on fake news and disinformation from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.