‘Europe is under attack’: Tajani and Gabriel on fake news

President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, attends a press conference at the foreign press association headquarters in Rome, Italy, 9 July 2018. [EFE/LUIGI MISTRULLI]

The EU faces an enormous challenge to counter the threat of disinformation ahead of the 2019 European elections, digital Commissioner Mariya Gabriel and European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said on Thursday (27 September).

“Europe is under attack from Russia and from some in the US,” Tajani said, speaking at a high-level fact-checking conference at the Parliament, in the context of disinformation.

“Fake news conditions public opinion. As politicians, our duty is to guarantee the freedom of choice of citizens,” he added.

Disinformation crackdown: Tech giants commit to EU code of practice

A group of tech giants including Google, Facebook and Mozilla have agreed to abide by landmark new standards set out by the European Commission in the battle against the dissemination of fake news across the EU.

Gabriel was as equally disturbed by the ramifications of allowing disinformation to blossom across social media.

It “saps citizens confidence in our institutions”, she said. “This can jeopardise the entire democratic process.”

With the impending European elections drawing ever closer, the Commission has been hurried into a position to scrabble together a strategy that stifles the threat of fake news.

Gabriel yesterday announced a voluntary code of practice in the field. Signatories to the code so far include Facebook, Google, Mozilla and Twitter.

The plans address five aspects of disinformation:

  • Disrupting advertising revenues from companies that spread disinformation;
  • Tackling fake accounts and online bots;
  • Making political advertising more transparent;
  • Allow users to report instances of disinformation more easily;
  • Providing better frameworks to monitor the spread of disinformation.

Tajani added that if the results of the code of practice were not satisfactory, then regulatory measures should be considered in order to stifle fake news.

US scolds Russia for meddling in Macedonia name deal referendum

US defence secretary Jim Mattis scolded the Kremlin on Monday (17 September) amid concerns that Russia is funding groups to influence the upcoming crucial vote on Macedonia’s name change, which should open the door to NATO and EU membership.

However, MEPs speaking at Thursday’s conference were less keen on the idea of regulation in the field of disinformation, drawing attention to concerns that any such dealings may result in Europe being regarded as parading itself as a gatekeeper of truth.

“The risk that we are running is that we would turn into a sort of thought police,” S&D MEP Isabelle Thomas said. “I am absolutely against any regulation.”

Moreover, ALDE’s Marietje Schaake and co-president of the Greens Philippe Lamberts did not warm to the idea of regulatory measures. Though Schaake did speak about the imperative of providing a transparent online ecosystem by which individuals’ rights to vote would not be hampered by the threat of fake news.

“The right to vote is a very sacred and important right. The average person doesn’t like to be tricked, robbed or fooled,” she said.

Meanwhile, Lamberts explicated how society as a whole has a “thirst for false information” and that there are deeper concerns with how users of online media consumer fake news. He advocated for better levels of cooperation between policy makers and online platforms.

Critics to yesterday’s code have highlighted the vagueness of the wording in the document as well as the suggestion that the code of practice does not place platforms under due accountability.

As EURACTIV reported, a ‘multistakeholder forum on disinformation’ comprising representatives of the media and civil society, observes that the code contains “no common approach, no meaningful commitments, no measurable objectives or KPIs, no compliance or enforcement tools and hence no possibility to monitor the implementation process”.

After the copyright win, what strategy for Europe’s media sector?

The European Parliament has just voted to back the copyright directive, as part of the ‘Digital Single Market’ priorities. Now, fighting fake news before the EU elections is not enough: we should prepare a vertical strategy for the media sector 2019-2024, writes Christophe Leclercq.

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