New Code of practice on disinformation: Fighting propaganda war with democratic methods – Joint statement by Vice-President Jourová and Commissioner Breton

(Source: European Commission)

Russia’s information, or rather disinformation war, clearly accompanies its military offensive in Ukraine. It’s just the latest reminder how dangerous for democracies disinformation and information manipulation can be.

Constant and almost unlimited access to online information is one of the greatest successes of digitisation and tech advancement, but the Covid19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine showed us that it can be gamed, often in very sophisticated ways, to spread dangerous disinformation campaigns by malicious actors.

A mix of legislation

Europe has learnt its lessons. We are no longer naïve. We are addressing this threat in a European way with a mix of legislation, such as the Digital Services Act (DSA) and unique tools, such as newly unveiled anti-disinformation Code.

Let’s be clear: this is not about critical views, but about algorithmic amplification of dangerous content, coordinated manipulative behaviour such as fake accounts or bots and about content that could create harm to our societies.

The lessons we learnt, working with online platforms and civil society show clearly that there are limits in how effective the fight against disinformation has been so far.

Four main take-aways

There are four main take-aways:

1. Disinformation pays off.

Players that have disseminated Covid19 related disinformation have gradually moved to pro-Kremlin disinformation, many of them motivated by financial gain. Monetisation of disinformation must be stopped.

2. Efforts ramp-up is a must.

Online platforms do not seem to dedicate resources to fighting disinformation equally in all countries and languages. Ad-hoc measures in a crisis cannot replace a structural EU-wide cooperation with fact-checkers and content moderation teams;

3. Data is key.

Researchers need to have access to online platforms’ data to better understand the many facets of disinformation. Adequate transparency and access to data for researchers are not yet there;

4. A joint approach to fight back.

Disinformation is often disseminated and amplified through the coordinated use of accounts. Strong action and cooperation between online platforms is essential to putting an end to the spread.

In the EU we have come up with a comprehensive approach to try to defend ourselves from this complex threat of disinformation.

The latest piece of the puzzle

The new anti-disinformation Code is the latest important piece of the puzzle in the EU disinformation toolbox. It will guide the largest digital players to take real and strong action to curb disinformation.

The aim is to become more effective in key areas, from understanding algorithms, to helping users critically assess the information they see, to removing financial gains from disinformation, and ensuring that disinformation in languages spoken by fewer people is not neglected.

Under the new Code, not only very large platforms but many other important players are taking very significant commitments to achieve these objectives and to better protect our societies.

Leaving no space for loopholes

Indeed, on top of major online platforms like Google, Meta, Twitter, TikTok or Microsoft, also smaller or specialised online services, participants from the online advertising sector, as well as civil society organisation offering tools or services to fight disinformation are signing the new Code.

This need not be the end of the story: all market participants are invited to join forces in the future, leaving no space for loopholes and providing for a complex response to a complex threat to our democracy.

In association with the Digital Services Act (DSA)

For the very large platforms, the Code will be underpinned by the EU pioneering law, the Digital Services Act (DSA).

The DSA will make large platforms put our society’s well-being first and their business interests second. They will have to assess how their services are gamed, and even redesign them or make them more robust against disinformation.

The Code will play an important role in the assessment of whether the very large platforms have complied with their legal obligation of mitigating the risks stemming from disinformation spreading on their systems.

And, for crisis such as the war in Ukraine, or the beginning of the pandemic, the DSA will also have an ‘alarm signal’ to trigger a fast crisis response from such large platforms.

With all the pieces we have put together in recent years, the EU sets a new global standard on how to address disinformation, misinformation and information manipulation.

The stakes are high, and our ambitions are up to the challenge.

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