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17th Oct 2021

EU Commission plans sanctions on disinformation

  • The commission will also introduce legislation next year on the transparency of online political advertising, with commissioner Vera Jourova adding she wants to limit the micro-targeting criteria for political advertisements (Photo: European Commission)

EU Commission vice-president Vera Jourova has confirmed the EU executive is planning a sanctions regime against foreign interference and disinformation efforts, naming China and Russia among the culprits.

It is part of a series of planned measures Jourova unveiled on Thursday (3 December) in order to better protect free elections in a digital age, strengthen independent media, and counter disinformation.

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The EU plans a "toolbox for countering foreign influence operations and interference, including new instruments that allow for the imposing of costs on perpetrators".

"We must not stay passive. Over years we have seen [an] increasing trend of coordinated, well-focused and targeted activities of malign actors from abroad," Jourova told reporters, naming China and Russia.

"We see the trend, the attacks on the European society bring fruits, and able to influence the quality of democracy, and undermine the trust of people in democratic institutions," she warned.

"Those who flood the information space with disinformation up to now go unpunished," she said adding that she is calling on member states to work together to close this gap and to "make it difficult to expensive, rather than easy and cheap as it is now".

Jourova refrained from going into details of a possible sanctions regime but said she was inspired by the EU cyber diplomacy toolbox, which was used for the first time in July against six individuals and three entities with travel bans and asset freeze.

"Possible ways of doing so range from publicly identifying commonly used techniques (so as to render them operationally unusable) to imposing sanctions following repeated offences," the democracy action plan, presented on Thursday, said.

The plan also states that as part of the upcoming Digital Services Act (DSA), to be unveiled later this month, the commission will bolster the bloc's code of practice against disinformation.

The code of practice is a self-regulatory framework signed by platforms, such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter, pledging to take measures to control disinformation online.

Self-regulation to co-regulation

"We will move from self-regulation to co-regulation," Jourova said.

"We need a new disinformation pact with platforms, advertisers, websites and civil society to improve accountability of algorithms, to stop allowing platforms and website making money on disinformation, to design better ways to deal with manipulations through bots and fake accounts," she added.

The commission will also introduce legislation next year on the transparency of online political advertising, with Jourova adding she wants to limit the micro-targeting criteria for political advertisements.

The executive wants to provide tools for journalists against "abusive litigation", the so-called Slapps.

The commission also wants to increase the transparency of media ownership, and of state advertisement.

"Public money should not be used for to favour only those who sympathies with those in power," Jourova said.

The commission will propose in 2021 a recommendation on the safety of journalists, with the Czech commissioner noting that since this year alone, 140 journalist were attacked during protests in 11 EU member states.

Opinion

EU 'all bark and no bite' on disinformation

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.

Twitter 'best' at applying EU disinformation code

The European Commission has introduced beefed-up rules tackling disinformation. Although the code is voluntary, it is set to be embedded into the Digital Services Act, where sanctions could be imposed.

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