The joint communication from the European Commission and the High Representative for Foreign Policy on combating disinformation due to the fake news on Covid-19 that has spread across Europe was published on 10 June. The pandemic has been accompanied by strong media pressure and there have been numerous cases of spreading false or misleading information, including attempts by foreign subjects to influence the political debate, inside and outside the EU.
Efforts by the Union had actually been made as early as 2018, when the Commission presented its Action Plan against disinformation, based on four pillars: improving the ability to identify, analyse and denounce fake news sources; ensuring and strengthening a coordinated supranational response; mobilising the private sector; and, finally, raising awareness and improving the resilience of users and citizens. Several platforms, big-tech and industry associations signed up on the Commission’s Code of Conduct in the same year.
The new Communication therefore highlights a series of criteria and measures to identify and isolate sources of disinformation, while at the same time intervening to ensure that citizens and users have access to information and news. Given the complexity of the issue, the EU has called for the collaboration of digital platforms and service providers to monitor user activity and ensure their privacy and freedom of information and expression.
At the same time, during the health crisis, the European External Action Service, together with the Commission, proceeded to strengthen strategic communication and public diplomacy in third countries, as well as the systematic publication of false news and their sources on the EUvsDisinfo website. The strategy also includes close cooperation with other international organisations, including the World Health Organisation, the G7 and NATO, in order to expand the capacity and speed of intervention in the detection, removal and correction of false information.
The monitoring of the activities of online platforms and digital service providers, in general, is a major issue. Included in the actions required by the Commission, the latter will be required to provide monthly reports on the initiatives adopted to promote reliable content, to increase cooperation with fact-checkers and transparency towards users.
Finally, the Communication focuses on the need to reconcile such monitoring actions with respect for fundamental rights such as freedom of expression, both for individuals and the digital and traditional media. The task, this time, is entrusted to individual Member State with the responsibility to guarantee these prerogatives within their own borders.
The strategy and related policy areas proposed in the Communication will complement the Commission’s action in relation to other instruments in the pipeline by the end of the year, primarily the Human Rights and Democracy Action Plan and the Digital Services Act.