EU needs to step up its efforts to tame disinformation

(Source: EUROPEAN COURT OF AUDITORS)

Disinformation is a serious and increasing problem across the EU. In 2018, the EU issued an action
plan to combat disinformation. This plan was relevant at the time it was first drawn up, but it is
incomplete. Its implementation is broadly on track, but it is still being outpaced by emerging
threats. This is the conclusion of a special report published by the European Court of Auditors (ECA).
The auditors found that more coordination is needed at EU level, and that Member States need to
step up their involvement, for instance in the rapid alert system. There is also a need to improve
the monitoring and accountability of online platforms, and to include disinformation in a coherent
EU media-literacy strategy, a strategy which is currently lacking.

Any attempt to maliciously and intentionally undermine or manipulate public opinion represents a
grave threat to the EU itself. At the same time, fighting disinformation represents a major challenge:
the EU needs to avoid infringing upon its fundamental values, such as the freedom of opinion and
expression, when it is doing so”
said Baudilio Tomé Muguruza, the member of the European Court of
Auditors responsible for the report. “The EU’s action plan against disinformation was relevant when
it was drawn up, but it remains incomplete. We recommend that the EU’s response to disinformation
should be stepped up, and that its coordination be improved.”

The EU’s action plan against disinformation has triggered positive developments, but it has not lived
up to all of its promises, according to the auditors. The plan contained relevant measures – for
example, debunking and reducing the visibility of misleading content – but it has not been updated
or reviewed since 2018, even though disinformation tactics, actors and technology are constantly
evolving. In December 2020, the Commission published the European Democracy Action Plan, which
includes anti-disinformation measures, without clarifying exactly how it relates to the 2018 action
plan against disinformation. The auditors warn that pursuing similar objectives through different
initiatives makes coordination more complex, and increases the risk of inefficiencies.

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