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19th Aug 2018

Commission to float anti-'fake news' proposals in spring

  • Facebook offers the biggest platform in terms of readership for fake news, but all social media can be affected (Photo: Eduardo Woo)

The European Commission will be proposing EU-level plans before the summer on how to tackle fake news.

Mariya Gabriel, the EU commissioner for digital economy, told reporters in Brussels on Monday (15 January) that its future proposals would be sourced from a group of experts that includes Silicon valley tech firms, academics, journalists, and others.

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  • Dutch academic de Cock Buning (l) and digital commissioner Gabriel (Photo: European Commission)

"Fake news is spreading at a worrying rate, it threatens the reputation of the media and the well-being of our democracies and threatens to undermine our democratic values," she said.

The task is tricky given most fake news is not illegal, posing larger questions on the freedom of expression and information.

The group, which met for the first time on Monday, is composed of some 40 people assigned to provide the commission with options on how to prevent the dissemination of fake news both online and offline.

"It is in the light of this that I think we will be able to identify the best ways of tackling the problem," said Gabriel.

A separate public consultation was also launched last November. Its outcome, due at the end of February, is also set to feed into the commission plans.

Wicked problem

Madeleine de Cock Buning, a Dutch university professor, presides over the group of 40.

"We have to face this wicked problem," she said, speaking alongside Gabriel at a joint press conference.

Cock Buning also chairs the European Regulators Group for Audio-visual Media Services, an advisory body of EU national regulators.

Outstanding issues on how to define fake news and who would enforce the rules remain unanswered.

But she said the group would most likely propose a multi-dimensional solution that includes different levels of regulation.

"We are in the process of discovering of what would be the most efficient to do, also taking care of the freedom of information aspect," she said.

National elections

One Oxford University study looked at 28 million feeds shared in political debates and elections in the US, UK, France, and Germany.

It found a seven-to-one real news versus fake news ratio in France. The UK and Germany had a ratio of four-to-one. Such figures have political leaders worried.

Earlier this month, French president Emmanuel Macron vowed to introduce a law to ban fake news on the internet during French election campaigns.

But the French move has its sceptics.

Pierre Haski, who heads Reporters without Borders, told the French literary magazine Le Nouveau that Macron's plan will end up targeting sponsored content and not fake news.

"You have to be extremely vigilant when putting together this type of legal text in order not to open the Pandora box," he warned.

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