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, misleading healthcare information, dangerous hoaxes with false claims, conspiracy theories and consumer fraud also endangered public health.

The European Union and its Member States are reinforcing their actions to counter efforts by actors who try to exploit the crisis and put citizens’ lives at risk, as well as those who spread propaganda or hatred.

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

Strengthening the Code of Practice on Disinformation

computer

A Code of Practice was established in 2018 for online platforms, advertisers and other key players. 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 with specific indicators that provide an overview of their actions to promote authoritative content, improve users’ awareness and identify flows of advertising linked to coronavirus disinformation.

As announced in the European Democracy Action Plan, the Commission proposes to go further by reinforcing the Code in several areas to make it strong, stable and flexible.

code of practice Current Code of Practice strengthening code of practice Guidance on how to strengthen the Code of Practice
  • Self-regulation
  • 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
  • Move towards co-regulation with backstop in the Digital Services Act
  • More signatories (e.g. private messaging services)
  • Reinforced commitments to achieve the Code’s objectives
  • A robust monitoring framework with clear Key Performance Indicators
  • Reports in standardised formats, with Member State breakdowns
  • Creation of a transparency centre
  • Creation of a permanent task force to evolve and adapt the code

tackling disinformation icon Commitments of signatories to the Code could be reinforced by

  • demonetising disinformation and increasing scrutiny of advertising placements
  • increasing the transparency of political advertising and issues based advertising
  • ensuring a comprehensive coverage of manipulative behaviour and tailored commitment to reduce their impact
  • 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

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.

  • Autumn 2021

    First draft of the Strengthened Code of Practice by signatories

  • By end of 2021
    • Strengthened Code of Practice
    • Legislative proposal on the transparency of political advertising

 

Documents