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Online platforms need regulating, Jourova warns

  • 'Some campaigns are driven for profit, some others by 'useful idiots'. So my aim is also to increase the cost of malign disinformation campaigns. Today, it is simply too cheap', commissioner Vera Jourova warned (Photo: European Commission)

Regulating digital platforms will be part of the EU Commission's plan to defend European democracies and fight disinformation, the commission vice-president Vera Jourova said Thursday (30 January).

Jourova was laying out her plans for the EU executive's forthcoming "European Democracy Action Plan", that is to be rolled out at the end of the year.

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"I want it to achieve clear goals: strengthen the media sector, make platforms more accountable and protect our democratic process," Jourova said at a Brussels event on disinformation.

The vice-president in charge of values and transparency said that the EU's efforts against organised manipulation and disinformation need to be "more mature".

"We need to help creating digital ecosystem that will be able to defend and promote democracy," she said.

"For me it is clear that to achieve this, to achieve a healthy, balanced use of technology, you will also need some degree of regulation, in particular addressed to the platforms," Jourova pointed out.

"We need to push them [platforms] to become more accountable and responsible," she added.

Giving an example, Jourova said she wanted to address political advertising, specifically, in the upcoming action plan - to increase transparency and legal certainty on how the content is channelled to the public and who owns the algorithms behind that.

She said the EU is "increasingly concerned about disinformation by actors within member states".

"Some campaigns are driven for profit, some others by 'useful idiots'. So my aim is also to increase the cost of malign disinformation campaigns. Today, it is simply too cheap," Jourova stressed.

Jourova said the plan would address media freedom and media pluralism, access to data by researchers and foreign interference as well.

Jourova pointed to Russia and China using disinformation to undermine European democracy.

"They have weaponised manipulation," she said.

"We will fight back and defend ourselves. We will provide political leadership, more funding and creativity and take on these difficult issues," Jourova pledged.

The action plan on European democracy is part of the EU executive's work programme for this year.

Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic told MEPs on Thursday in the European parliament that the action plan will address disinformation, political campaigning, free and independent media and freedom of speech.

He also said the commission will update the charter of fundamental rights to address AI and human rights issues, such as facial recognition.

Jourova had pledged at her confirmation hearing last year that she would help protect journalists by creating better protection and legal aid for them.

On Thursday, Jourova pledged to do more for media literacy.

"Lying is a problem, but the bigger problem is that we believe in those lies. We need to raise awareness about how disinformation works and invest in media literacy," she also said.

EU to better protect journalists, Jourova promises

The current Czech commissioner for justice, Vera Jourova, was approved for the next commission, as she promised to defend democracy from online threats, and to present ideas about reforming future European elections by 2020.

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The list of suspects orchestrating foreign influence campaigns is growing. The likes of China, Iran, India, Saudi Arabia are also tapping into Russia's disinfo playbook.

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For example, Germany's primetime TV news reported that 47 percent of political social media discussions were related to the extreme-right AfD party, when in fact this was the case only for Twitter - used by only four percent of Germans.

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US social media giant Facebook announced new measures to tackle the 'infodemic' triggered by bogus content on the coronavirus. The move coincides with a study by activists showing how Facebook had so far failed to curtail virus-related disinformation.

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