A growing threat to European democracies

Disinformation is a concern for our citizens.

  • 83% of people think disinformation threatens democracy
  • 63% of younger Europeans come across fake news more than once a week
  • 51% of Europeans think they have been exposed to disinformation online
online disinformation

Disinformation harms our society by

  • eroding trust in institutions and media
  • putting elections at risk
  • hampering citizens’ ability to make informed decisions
  • impairing freedom of expression

During the COVID-19 crisis, false information on vaccines, misleading healthcare information, dangerous hoaxes with false claims and conspiracy theories endangered public health. More recently, aggressive pro-Kremlin disinformation and war propaganda has accompanied Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine.

The European Union and its Member States are reinforcing their actions to counter efforts by actors who spread disinformation to destabilise our societies and democracies, try to exploit a crisis, and put citizens’ lives at risk.

detextion detecting, analysing and exposing disinformation
cooperation improving societal resilience and mobilising the private sector

A strengthened Code of Practice on Disinformation

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Code of Practice was first established in 2018 for online platforms, trade associations and  key players of the advertising sector. It committed them to curbing disinformation and improving their online policies.

 

It has proven to be an innovative tool for ensuring greater transparency and accountability of online platforms as well as providing a structured framework for monitoring and improving the platforms’ policies on disinformation.

Exchanges with signatories have become more regular and efficient. During the coronavirus crisis, platforms reported monthly to the Commission providing an overview of their actions to promote authoritative content, improve users’ awareness, demote or take action against harmful content and identify advertising linked to coronavirus disinformation.

As announced in the European Democracy Action Plan, the Commission published Guidance in May 2021 asking signatories to reinforce the Code in all its areas to make it a strong, efficient and flexible tool to fight Disinformation.

2018 Code of Practice

  • Self-regulation
  • 16 Signatories - 21 commitments on:
    • Scrutiny of ad placements
    • Transparency of political and issue-based advertising
    • Integrity of services
    • Empowering consumers
    • Empowering fact checkers and researchers
    • Measuring the Code’s effectiveness

2022 strengthened Code of Practice

  • Co-regulation for Very Large Online Platforms under the Digital Services Act
  • 34 Signatories – 44 commitments and 127 specific measures:
    • Stronger measures to demonetise disinformation 
    • Increasing the transparency of political and issue based advertising
    • Ensuring a comprehensive coverage of current and emerging manipulative behaviour
    • Broadening and strengthening tools that empower users, e.g. to detect and flag false or misleading content
    • Increasing the coverage of fact-checking across EU countries and languages
    • Providing researchers with increased access to data
    • Establishing a robust monitoring and reporting framework, with qualitative and quantitative information at EU and Member State level 
    • Setting up a Transparency Centre
    • Creating a permanent Task-force to evolve and adapt the Code

Chronology of EU's actions against disinformation

From 2015 onwards, the EU and Member States reinforced their approach against disinformation.

  • March 2015

    Launch of the East StratCom Taskforce in the European External Action Service

  • April 2016

    Joint Framework on countering hybrid threats

    A comprehensive approach to improve the common response to the challenges posed by hybrid threats to Member States, citizens and the collective security of Europe.

  • March 2018

    Report of the independent High-Level Expert Group on fake news and online disinformation recommending to tackle pressing problems and longer-term responses to increase societal resilience to disinformation

  • April 2018

    Communication on tackling online disinformation inter alia announcing the code of Practice on Disinformation

  • September 2018
  • October 2018

    Code of practice on disinformation

    An innovative self-regulatory tool to ensure greater transparency and accountability of online platforms, and a framework to monitor and improve online platforms’ policies on disinformation.

  • December 2018

    Action Plan against disinformation

    Sets the framework of the EU’s actions by improving detection and analysis capabilities, raising awareness, strengthening societal resilience, increasing coordinated responses, and mobilising online platforms and the advertising sector.

  • March 2019

    Launch of the Rapid Alert System against disinformation.

  • June 2020
    • Communication: Tackling COVID-19 disinformation and launch of the COVID-19 disinformation monitoring programme

    A transparency measure to ensure accountability towards the public of the efforts made by the Code’s signatories to limit online disinformation related to COVID-19.

    • Launch of the European Digital Media Observatory

    Creates and supports a multidisciplinary community, including fact-checkers, academic researchers and other relevant stakeholders contributing to addressing disinformation.

  • December 2020
    • Proposal for a Digital Services Act

    Defines clearer responsibilities and accountability for online platforms tailored to their respective role, size and impact in the online ecosystem.

    • European Democracy Action Plan

    Includes actions to improve the EU’s existing toolbox for countering foreign interference, such as imposing fines and the guidance to strengthen the Code of Practice on Disinformation.

  • May 2021
    • Guidance for Strengthening the Code of Practice on Disinformation

    Commission’s views on how platforms should address gaps and shortcomings in the Code and create a more transparent, safe and trustworthy online environment.

    • Launch of the European Digital Media Observatory national hubs

    To increase the capacity of detecting, analysing and exposing disinformation campaigns.

  • June 2021

    Launch of the revision process by the signatories to the 2018 Code and additional new prospective signatories.

  • November 2021
  • June 2022
    • Strengthened Code of Practice

Documents