Civil society plays key role against fake news

EESC: Awareness-raising and critical thinking start at school

Photo: EESC Ulrich Samm and Giulia Barbucci, rapporteurs on the EESC opinion Action Plan against Disinformation.

Active participation by civil society organisations is key to offering a comprehensive response to disinformation, says the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) in its opinion Action Plan against Disinformation, adopted at its latest plenary session. The committee is pro-active in supporting the joint efforts against disinformation, for example through its opinions, hearings, Going Local events and numerous press activities through its professional Communication Group.

Propping up the action plan to counter disinformation, presented by the Commission and the EU High Representative, EESC highlighted the fact that disinformation can be defined as verifiably false or misleading information that is created, presented and disseminated for economic gain or to intentionally deceive the public. It is causing public harm and threatening democracy.

The members of the committee pointed out that digital techniques such as troll attacks on social media profiles, bots, falsification of documents, video manipulation and others, make it easier to generate and distribute disinformation.

Spreading disinformation has become part of a hybrid war with a clear political aim, said Ulrich Samm, one of the rapporteurs on the file, noting that in addition to false information, there are other threats to people's freedoms, fundamental rights and minority rights. He underscored that among these threats are highly selective information, defamation, scare‑mongering and inciting hatred.

We need multiple actions from all stakeholders to provide quality information and raise awareness, stressed the other rapporteur, Giulia Barbucci. As the most effective disinformation always contains a grain of truth, and for this reason it is very difficult to fight it appropriately, she explained that it is necessary to support the initiative for coordinated action to protect the EU, its institutions and its citizens against it. We need urgent measures since the European elections of May 2019 are not far off, she also asserted.

The paper adopts a coordinated approach to disinformation based on four pillars, starting with improving the capabilities of the EU institutions to detect, analyse and expose disinformation, by strengthening the strategic communication task forces and EU delegations through additional staff and new tools. The committee puts special focus on establishing a rapid alert system that is able to address disinformation campaigns, working closely with existing networks, the European Parliament, NATO and the G7's rapid response mechanism.

The third pillar requires mobilising the private sector to tackle disinformation, by closely monitoring the implementation of the Code of Practice on Disinformation, released last September for online platforms, advertisers and the advertising industry.

The EESC also accented on raising awareness of disinformation and improving societal resilience, by organising targeted campaigns for the public and training events for media and public opinion shapers in the EU and its neighbours, to show the negative effects.

The committee's opinion emphasises that it is important to build resilience, not only by involving all sectors of society but also by improving people's media literacy. Awareness-raising and critical thinking start at school but also require a continuous, lifelong refresher course. Independent fact-checkers and quality journalism also play a vital role and need resources to be able to operate in almost real time.


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