In a historical period called “post-truth”, misinformation represents a real threat to the freedom of citizens, to the functioning of institutions and to democracy. During the Covid-19 global pandemic, the rapid expansion of fake news and myths, especially political ones, put the public health at risk. Ensuring free and reliable information is a priority and a duty on the part of citizens and institutions. So, how is the EU committed to combating misinformation?
By Elena Noventa / 18.06.2020
The media context in which we are submerged daily offers us hundreds of articles, exposés and other content, very often approximate, misinterpreted or false: fake news, myths, misleading advertising, scams, conspiracy campaigns. All this is the result of a communicative culture based on competition between media outlets, which do not verify information in order to be the first to publish a news item; or on click-baiting, which takes profit from the many views and shares of fake news and viral content. Very often misinformation also has political purposes, such as attacking the credibility of a particular state, government or institution, from the inside or outside, in order to create imbalances.
As ex High Representative of the EEAS (European External Action Security) Federica Mogherini said “Europe is committed to protecting democracy and not allowing anyone to spread fake news that fuels hatred, divisions and distrust of democracy. We have decided to act together, as the European Union, and to strengthen our response, promote our principles, support the resilience of our societies within our borders and in our part of the world. This is the European way to respond to one of the most major challenges of our time”.
EU plan against disinformation
In 2015, the EEAS set up a task force to fight Russian disinformation campaigns, setting specific objectives for clear and reliable communication with the Eastern Front, especially by supporting media freedom and strengthening independent media; improving the Union’s capacity to anticipate and address disinformation activities in favour of the Kremlin and to raise public awareness about them. In this context, the EUvsDisinformation web portal was created, where fact-checkers and experts publish false content and news from Russia that is intended to harm the EU and its Member States.
In April 2018, the EU Plan Against Disinformation, which sets out four key objectives, was approved:
- to improve the overall capacity of the EU institutions and Member States to detect hostile actions of disinformation.
- to facilitate coordinated responses between States and institutions.
- to empower media and digital platform operators.
- to involve and empower schools, universities, think tanks for IT services and individual citizens.
In June 2019, the Plan of the progress achieved with the implementation of the Plan up to that moment was presented: a Rapid Alert System was created, which is a digital platform where States and Institutions can quickly communicate with each other, exchange information, keep up to date on what is the situation of individual States, the problems detected, the solutions adopted, communicate periodic reports and keep the situation under observation, especially in delicate moments such as European elections.
On 16th October 2018, Facebook, Google, Twitter and Mozilla signed the Code of good practice, which commits them to act in five specific areas within their platforms:
- Disruption of advertising revenue from certain accounts and websites that spread disinformation;
- Making political and issue-based advertising more transparent;
- Addressing the issue of fake accounts and online bots;
- Giving consumers the opportunity to report misinformation and access different news sources while improving the visibility and availability of authoritative content;
- Empower the research community to monitor online misinformation through access to platform data while respecting privacy.
Covid-19 emergency and infodemia
The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020 brought a strong and increasingly widespread phenomenon of “infodemia”: the circulation of an excessive amount of information and medical provisions, very often unverified, false, approximate or misinterpreted, conspiracy campaigns carried out by other countries, myths. All of this distorted and negatively influenced public opinion, putting at risk not only democracy and its functioning, but also the health of citizens. As EEAS President Josep Borrel said: “Misinformation can kill”.
The EU’s response was immediate, declaring that the protection of citizens’ freedom and health requires information neutrality and respect for the truth.
On 17th April 2020, the European Parliament set the objectives and measures to be implemented:
- to step up the fight against aggressive propaganda from external influences such as Russia and China;
- close cooperation with the official European media and an intensification of direct communication with citizens, for example by providing channels such as official websites to be informed in a secure and transparent way;
- the provision of 5.1 million euros to finance projects in favour of freedom of the press and independent media;
- the use and enhancement of the EUvsDisinformation platform as a channel to publish information, official news, monthly EEAS reports on disinformation and fact-checking.
Help the EU help you
Europe acts in our interests and of those of the community, but let us remember that Europe is most importantly about us who compose it, therefore we too can make a significant contribution to combating disinformation.
First of all, it is good to remember the two basic principles for correct information: choose sources and check them. Do not be in a hurry, go all the way.
To further deepen the EU’s action against disinformation and coronavirus, here are some useful links: