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15th Aug 2020

Coronavirus

'Self-regulation not working' on fake news, EU warned

  • Last week Twitter suspended 23,750 accounts posting pro-Beijing narratives and a further 150,000 accounts that were amplifying these messages (Photo: European Union)

MEPs, journalists, publishers and broadcasters on Monday (15 June) called on the European Commission to scale up efforts to hold social media platforms, largely but not only Facebook and Twitter, accountable for the dissemination of Covid-19 fake news and disinformation.

Online platforms were asked in 2018 to implement a self-regulatory code of practice on disinformation, taking down illegal content, demoting false or misleading content, and limiting false advertisements of products and services.

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However, journalists and media organisations called on Monday (15 June) for "much stronger measures" to tackle fake news related to the pandemic.

A joint declaration signed by the European Federation of Journalists, the European Publishers Council and the Association of Commercial Television in Europe urged the EU commission to introduce "meaningful" sanctions under the code of practice to ensure that co-signatories intend to take action.

"The Covid-19 crisis has accelerated and magnified the impact of disinformation online, sometimes with deadly impact," they said.

But the code of practice "has shown to be inadequate to address the source and drivers of disinformation propagated online," they wrote, adding that "there is an urgent need for effective instruments to better assess and successfully tackle the issue".

Last week, the EU called on online platforms to maximise the fight against the wave of coronavirus disinformation - especially coming from China and Russia.

Twitter suspended last Friday some 23,750 accounts that were posting pro-Beijing narratives - and another 150,000 accounts that were amplifying these messages.

The US social media company also took down 1,000 accounts linked to Russian political propaganda and a network of 7,340 fake or compromised accounts used for "cheerleading" the ruling party in Turkey.

Filter bubbles and algorithms

Meanwhile, MEPs from the European Parliament's committee on civil liberties stressed on Monday that Europe is too dependent on the goodwill of online platforms for crucial issues, such as ensuring that EU citizens receive trustworthy information.

"Hate speech, disinformation and the lack of access to trustworthy information are invalidating democracy in many member states, what puts our survival as the EU at stake," warned MEP Magdalena Adamowicz, who is a rapporteur on disinformation.

In her latest report, Adamowicz said that social media are not 'passive' platforms, due to their increasing role in introducing algorithms that favour specific ads and publications - and calls on the EU executive to better address this in the EU's regulation.

Similarly, liberal MEP Sophie in 't Veld also warned about the so-called "filter bubbles" that determine which information EU citizens can see and in what order.

"We cannot leave it to American companies to determine which information EU citizens can or cannot see. They cannot determine our view on the world, that window should be as big as possible," she said.

'Not enough'

EU commissioner for values and transparency Věra Jourová stressed that "lying is not new, but we need to work more about making society more resilient" by supporting and investing in education and media literacy.

Additionally, Jourová recognised that the voluntary action of online platforms is "not enough," especially because not all big players are on board.

Last week, Chinese company TikTok joined Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, and Mozilla as a signatory to the code of practice - which presents new challenges different from those of the US-based tech companies.

The EU Commission is expected to present an assessment of the self-regulatory code of practice on disinformation before the end of the year.

This two-years approach will feed into the upcoming Digital Service Act and Democracy Action Plan, which aim to regulate platforms and the online ecosystem and protect foreign interference in elections taking place in the EU, respectively.

Additionally, Jourová said that the commission will present a dedicated scheme of financial support for fact-checkers by the end of June.

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