12 October 2018

EU Code of Practice on Disinformation

Tech giants sign up to voluntary code to help tackle 'fake news'.

What's the issue?

Fake news is a term which gets bandied around a lot these days but evidence of 'bad actors' trying to use social media to influence elections and the Brexit referendum, has focused the attention of governments and legislators. In April 2018, the European Commission published a Communication under the banner of its Digital Single Market project in which it called "on all relevant players to significantly step up their efforts to address the problem adequately.", promising a review of progress by the end of 2018, and continuing involvement in the issue.

What's the development?

Leading social media platforms and ISPs, including Facebook, Google, Twitter and Mozilla, have signed up to an EU voluntary Code of Practice on Disinformation. "Disinformation" is defined in the Code as "verifiably false or misleading information which cumulatively:

  • Is created, presented and disseminated for economic gain or to intentionally deceive the public; and
  • May cause public harm, intended as threats to democratic political and policymaking processes as well as public goods such as the protection of EU citizens' health, the environment or security.

The notion of "Disinformation" does not include "misleading advertising, reporting errors, satire and parody, or clearly identified partisan news and commentary, and is without prejudice to binding legal obligations, self-regulatory advertising codes, and standards regarding misleading advertising".

The purpose of the Code is to identify actions the signatories could put in place in order to address challenges relating to disinformation.

The initiatives centre on introducing safeguards against disinformation using technology and transparency, including:

  • Reducing profits made from advertising placement for those spreading disinformation.
  • Increasing transparency relating to political and issue-based advertising, not only to identify it but to help users understand why they have been targeted.
  • Investing in technology to prioritise relevant, authentic, accurate and authoritative information and improving the findability of trustworthy content.
  • Developing tools to enable content discovery and access to different news sources.
  • Not promoting accounts and sites which consistently misrepresent themselves.
  • Making use of fact-checking organisations and tools.
  • Helping advertisers police the placement of their adverts.
  • Having a clear policy on the misuse of automated systems such as bots.
  • Reviewing the code annually and publishing a report.

The code also has an annex detailing best practice.

What does this mean for you?

This is a delicate area for all stakeholders due to the potential conflict between freedom of speech and opinion. It is a very fine line between preventing or de-prioritising disinformation, and stifling freedom of speech on the internet. The industry will be hoping to avoid regulation in this area which could move them ever further away from the role of intermediary. It will be interesting to see what the Commission's promised report at the end of year has to say about the effectiveness of this Code although it may be too early for them to reach a conclusion.

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