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EU drafts tighter regulation of online disinformation

Attempting to address advertising models that reward disinformation, the European Union is revising its policy on social media, online platforms, and other digital entities. A new European Commission (EC) draft guidance policy (COM 2021/262), unveiled on 26 May, aims to widen the scope and reporting obligations of the union’s 2018 self-regulatory Code of Practice on Disinformation, and is set for legislative approval by autumn 2021 and enactment in early 2022.

“No one should be authorised as the arbiter of the truth: neither the Commission nor governments nor bureaucrats, but we do want platforms to embed fact-checking against disinformation into their practices and remove it. That should be systematic,” Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Values and Transparency, told reporters including Janes on 26 May. “We will set up an oversight system and there will be sanctions on those who do not behave responsibly.”

Although the 2018 code enabled a clampdown on much Covid-19 pandemic-related disinformation in 2020, the EC highlighted several weaknesses that included inconsistent application of the code across platforms and member states, insufficient granular national data for analysis, and an absence of common reporting templates and a repository of flagged content. “Content labelled as false by independent fact-checkers tends to resurge across platforms due to the lack of a centralised fact-checks repository,” observed the EC.

“We need more data to know what is happening across platforms and to enable a better understanding of the code’s impact on practices,” said Jourová. “And we want signatories to agree on what constitutes ‘manipulative techniques’ such as bots, deep fakes, or [the malign use of] artificial intelligence.”

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