European Commission launches Action Plan to combat online disinformation

December 5, 2018

The European Commission has released an Action Plan that they hope will bolster their efforts to minimise the impact of online disinformation on the forthcoming European elections

The Plan helpfully reminds of the definition of what is considered to be disinformation:

“verifiably false or misleading information that is created, presented and disseminated for economic gain or to intentionally deceive the public, and may cause public harm”

Public harm includes threats to democratic processes as well as to public goods such as Union citizens’ health, environment or security but disinformation does not include “inadvertent errors, satire and parody, or clearly identified partisan news and commentary”. Exactly what constitutes partisan news remains unclear and the plan also points out that it only targets content that is legal under Union or national law.

This definition was first set out in a communication published in April this year: Communication on tackling on-line disinformation, COM(2018) 236. That was followed in October with a Code of Practice that has been signed by Facebook, Google, Twitter and Mozilla, as well as the trade association representing online platforms and trade associations representing the advertising industry and advertisers.

The Plan itself sets out four broad objectives, which in brief are:

Improved detection: a doubling of the budget to 5m euros from 1.9m euros in 2018 will help with this

Coordinated response: A dedicated Rapid Alert System will be set up among the EU institutions and Member States which aims to be in operation by March 2019  

implementing the Code of Practice: signatories should implement the commitments made under the Code of Practice, focusing on actions that are urgent for the European elections in 2019 such as 

ensuring transparency of political advertising, 

stepping up efforts to close active fake accounts, 

labelling non-human interactions (messages spread automatically by ‘bots’) and 

cooperating with fact-checkers and academic researchers to detect disinformation campaigns and make fact-checked content more visible and widespread. 

Raising awareness: through targeted awareness campaigns and media literacy programmes. Support will also be provided to national multidisciplinary teams of independent fact-checkers and researchers to detect and expose disinformation campaigns across social networks.

The signatories to the Code of Practice will have to provide a first implementation update to the Commission by the end of 2018, which the Commission will then publish in January 2019. The online platforms will then have to report to the Commission on a monthly basis until May. After 12 months the Commission will review the success of the Plan with the hint that further regulation would be considered should the response be deemed inadequate.

The Commission’s press release and links to the relevant documents are available on the Europa website.