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.
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.
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”.