The European Union plans to beef up its response to online disinformation, with the Commission saying today it will step up efforts to combat harmful but not illegal content —digital services and adtech companies to sign up to voluntary rules aimed at tackling the spread of this manipulative and often malicious content. EU lawmakers pointed to risks such as the threat to public health posed by the spread of harmful disinformation about as driving the need for more brutal action. Concerns about the impacts of online disinformation on democratic processes are another driver, they said.
Commenting in a statement, Thierry Breton, commissioner for Internal Market, said: “We need to rein in the infodemic and the diffusion of false information putting people’s lives in danger. Disinformation cannot remain a source of revenue. We need to , the entire advertising ecosystem, and networks of fact-checkers. The will provide us with additional, powerful tools to tackle disinformation.” A new, more expansive code of practice on disinformation is being prepared — and the Commission hopes to be finalized in September to be ready for application at the start of .
Its gear change is a fairly public acceptance that the EU’s voluntary code of practice — and approach Brussels has taken since 2018 — has not worked out as hoped. And, well, we did warn them. Aon board with demonetizing viral disinformation is overdue. The online disinformation problem hasn’t gone away. Some reports have suggested inappropriate activity — like voter manipulation and computational propaganda — has been getting worse in recent years rather than better.
However, getting visibility into the accurate scale of the disinformation problem, given that those best placed to know (ad platforms) don’t freely open their systems to external researchers. But that’s something else the Commission would like to change. Signatories to the EU’s current code of practice on disinformation are: EU lawmakers said they want to broaden participation by getting smaller platforms to join and recruiting all the various players in the adtech space whose tools provide the means for monetizing online disinformation.
Today, commissioners said they want to see the code covering a “whole range” of actors in the online advertising industry (i.e., rather than the current handful). In its press release, the Commission also said it wants platforms and adtech players to exchange information on disinformation ads that have been refused by one of them. So there’s a more coordinated response to shut out .
As for those signed up already, the Commission’son their performance was bleak. Speaking during a , Breton said that only one of the five platform signatories to the code has “really” lived up to its commitments — which was presumably a reference to the first five tech giants in the above list (aka Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, and TikTok). Breton demurred on doing an explicit name-and-shame of the four others — who he said have not “at all” done what was expected of them — not the Commission’s place to do that.