Tackling disinformation

The Code of Practice has proven effective in ensuring online transparency across Europe

Vera Jourova

The Code of Practice on Disinformation, effectively in place for more than a year, has proven a very valuable instrument, the first one of its kind worldwide, and has provided a framework for a structured dialogue between relevant stakeholders to ensure greater transparency of platforms' policies against disinformation within the EU, the first Commission's report on the issue showed.

“The Code of Practice has shown that online platforms and the advertising sector can do a lot to counter disinformation when they are put under public scrutiny. But platforms need to be more accountable and responsible, they need to become more transparent,” VP Vera Jourova said. “Organising and securing our digital information space has become a priority. The Code is a clear example of how public institutions can work more efficiently with tech companies to bring real benefits to our society,” Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton added.

The Commission, assisted by the European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services (ERGA), has been working with online platforms and advertising associations to monitor the effective implementation of the commitments set forth in the Code of Practice on Disinformation. The assessment of the Code covers its initial 12-months of operation. It brought positive outcomes. In particular, it increased platforms' accountability and public scrutiny of the measures taken by the signatories to counter disinformation within the EU. However, the quality of the information disclosed by the Code's signatories is still insufficient and shortcomings limit the effectiveness of the Code.

The assessment identified the following shortcomings: the absence of relevant key performance indicators (KPIs) to assess the effectiveness of platforms' policies to counter the phenomenon; the lack of clearer procedures, commonly shared definition and more precise commitments; the lack of access to data allowing for an independent evaluation of emerging trends and threats posed by online disinformation; missing structured cooperation between platforms and the research community; and the need to involve other relevant stakeholders, in particular from the advertising sector.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and 'infodemic', the Commission has set out a balanced and comprehensive European approach on coronavirus-related disinformation in the 10 June 2020 Joint Communication and has been in close contact with the platforms adhering to the Code of practice to ensure that its safeguards were effectively applied. Platforms have shown that they can further improve their performance, when compared with what was achieved previously under the Code.

Therefore, alongside the assessment of the Code of Practice, the Commission is today also publishing the first baseline reports on the actions taken by the signatories of the Code to fight false and misleading coronavirus-related information until 31 July. This includes initiatives to promote and give visibility to authoritative content at EU and Member State level. For example, Google Search gave prominence to articles published by EU fact-checking organisations, which generated more than 155 million impressions over the first half of 2020, and LinkedIn sent the “European Daily Rundown”, a curated news summary by experienced journalist, to close to 10 million EU interested members.

Delivering on the Joint Communication, the Commission will gather, on a monthly basis, specific indicators from the platforms to monitor the effectiveness and impact of their policies in curbing the spread of disinformation related to the coronavirus pandemic. Building both on the actions listed in the Joint Communication, and addressing the shortcomings identified in today's assessment of the Code, the Commission will deliver on its comprehensive approach by presenting two complementary initiatives by the end of the year.

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