EC steps up a gear in firming Code of Practice on Disinformation

It asks stronger commitments by online platforms, advertising ecosystem and fact-checkers

Photo: EU Vĕra Jourová and Thierry Breton.

The Commission released on Wednesday its guidance to strengthen the Code of Practice on Disinformation, which sets out principles and commitments for online platforms and the advertising sector to counter the spread of fake news online.

The guidance addresses gaps and shortcomings and create a more transparent, safe and trustworthy online environment. It also lays out the cornerstones for a robust monitoring framework of the code's implementation.

The new pattern aims at evolving the existing Code of Practice towards a co-regulatory instrument foreseen under the Digital Services Act (DSA), without prejudice to the final agreement on the DSA, and as announced in the European Democracy Action Plan.

Current signatories involve major online platforms active in the EU, as well as trade associations and relevant players in the online and advertising businesses. Among them are Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, TikTok, Mozilla, DOT Europe, the  World  Federation  of Advertisers  (WFA) and its Belgian counterpart, the  Union  of  Belgian  Advertisers  (UBA);  the  European Association of Communications Agencies and its national members from France, Poland and Czechia.

Stronger commitments by the signatories and broader participation to the code is expected. Signatories of the code should reduce financial incentives to disinformation, empower users to take an active role in preventing its spread, better cooperate with fact-checkers across EU Member States and languages, and provide a framework for access to data for researchers.

Threats posed by disinformation online are fast evolving and we need to step up our collective action to empower citizens and protect the democratic information space, Věra Jourová, EC Vice President for Values and Transparency, commented.

According to her is necessary a new stronger code “as we need online platforms and other players to address the systemic risks of their services and algorithmic amplification, stop policing themselves alone and stop allowing to make money on disinformation, while fully preserving the freedom of speech”.

As Thierry Breton, EU Commissioner for Internal Market, stated the EU needs “to rein in the infodemic and the diffusion of false information putting people's life in danger”.

“Disinformation cannot remain a source of revenue. We need to see stronger commitments by online platforms, the entire advertising ecosystem and networks of fact-checkers. The Digital Services Act will provide us with additional, powerful tools to tackle disinformation,” Commissioner Breton explained.

The EU executive invites established and emerging platforms active in the EU, ad-tech providers, brands benefitting from ads, private messaging services that can contribute with resources or expertise to the Code's effective functioning, to join it.

The new tailored commitments will correspond to the size and nature of services provided by signatories.

Platforms and players in the online advertising must take responsibility and better work together to defund disinformation, notably by exchanging information on disinformation ads refused by one of the signatories, improving transparency and accountability around ad placements and barring participation by actors that systematically post debunked content.

The strengthened code should provide a comprehensive coverage of the current and emerging forms of manipulative behaviour used to spread disinformation, such as bots, fake accounts, organised manipulation campaigns, account takeovers.

Users need to have access to tools to better understand and safely navigate the online environment.

The signatories should also provide their users with accessible, effective tools and procedures to flag disinformation with the potential to cause public or individual harm.

The new guidance foresees, users, whose content or accounts have been subject to measures taken in response to such flagging, to have access to a mechanism to appeal and seek redress.

The beefed up code should also boost the visibility of reliable information of public interest, and warn users who interacted with content marked as false by fact-checkers. Better cooperation with fact-checkers and increase coverage across EU countries and languages are also added to the new code.

In this respect, signatories should develop a Transparency Centre where they will indicate which policies they have adopted to implement the code's commitments, how they have been enforced, and display all the data and metrics relevant to the Key Performance Indicators that should be monitored.

The document also proposes the establishment of a permanent task force chaired by the Commission and composed of signatories, people from the European External Action Service, the European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services (ERGA) and from the European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO) that received more than €11m to create eight regional hubs to help implement and expand its work in the Member States.

The task force, which will rely also on the support of experts, will help review and adapt the Code in view of technological, societal, market and legislative developments.

The EU executive will now call upon the current signatories to convene and strengthen the code in line with the guidance and will encourage new signatories to join.


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