Disinformation: EU assesses the Code of Practice and publishes platform reports on coronavirus related disinformation - EU monitor

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Disinformation: EU assesses the Code of Practice and publishes platform reports on coronavirus related disinformation

Source: European Commission (EC) i, published on Thursday, September 10 2020.

Today, the Commission presents the assessment of the implementation and effectiveness of the Code of Practice on Disinformation. The assessment shows that the Code has proven a very valuable instrument, the first one of its kind worldwide, and has provided a framework for a structured dialogue between relevant stakeholders to ensure greater transparency of platforms' policies against disinformation within the EU. At the same time, the assessment highlights certain shortcomings mainly due to the Code's self-regulatory nature.

Věra Jourová, Vice President for Values and Transparency, said: “The Code of Practice has shown that online platforms and the advertising sector can do a lot to counter disinformation when they are put under public scrutiny. But platforms need to be more accountable and responsible; they need to become more transparent. The time has come to go beyond self-regulatory measures. Europe is best placed to lead the way and propose instruments for more resilient and fair democracy in an increasingly digital world.”

Thierry Breton, Commissioner for the Internal Market, said: “Organising and securing our digital information space has become a priority. The Code is a clear example of how public institutions can work more efficiently with tech companies to bring real benefits to our society. It is a unique tool for Europe to be assertive in the defence of its interests and values. Fighting disinformation is a shared responsibility, which the tech and advertising sector must fully assume.”

The Commission, assisted by the European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services (ERGA), has been working with online platforms and advertising associations to monitor the effective implementation of the commitments set forth in the Code of Practice on Disinformation. The assessment of the Code covers its initial 12-months of operation. It brought positive outcomes. In particular, it increased platforms' accountability and public scrutiny of the measures taken by the signatories to counter disinformation within the EU. However, the quality of the information disclosed by the Code's signatories is still insufficient and shortcomings limit the effectiveness of the Code.

The assessment identified the following shortcomings:

  • the absence of relevant key performance indicators (KPIs) to assess the effectiveness of platforms' policies to counter the phenomenon;
  • the lack of clearer procedures, commonly shared definition and more precise commitments;
  • the lack of access to data allowing for an independent evaluation of emerging trends and threats posed by online disinformation;
  • missing structured cooperation between platforms and the research community;
  • the need to involve other relevant stakeholders, in particular from the advertising sector.

Reports on actions taken to fight coronavirus-related disinformation

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and ‘infodemic', the Commission has set out a balanced and comprehensive European approach on coronavirus-related disinformation in the 10 June 2020 Joint Communication and has been in close contact with the platforms adhering to the Code of practice to ensure that its safeguards were effectively applied.

Platforms have shown that they can further improve their performance, when compared with what was achieved previously under the Code. Actions taken have led to concrete and measurable results, i.e. an increase in the prominence given to authoritative sources of information, and the availability of new tools to users to critically assess online content and report possible abuses. The crisis has also resulted in a stepping up of collaborations with fact-checkers and researchers and, in certain cases, the demoting or removing of content fact-checked as false or misleading and potentially harmful to people health.

Therefore, alongside the assessment of the Code of Practice, the Commission is today also publishing the first baseline reports on the actions taken by the signatories of the Code to fight false and misleading coronavirus-related information until 31 July. This includes initiatives to:

  • promote and give visibility to authoritative content at EU and Member State level. For example, Google Search gave prominence to articles published by EU fact-checking organisations, which generated more than 155 million impressions over the first half of 2020 and LinkedIn sent the "European Daily Rundown", a curated news summary by experienced journalist, to close to 10 million EU interested members.
  • improve users' awareness: Facebook and Instagram directed more than 2 billion people to resources from health authorities, including the WHO.
  • Detect and hamper manipulative behaviour: Twitter challenged more than 3.4 million suspicious accounts targeting coronavirus discussion.
  • Limit advertising linked to coronavirus disinformation to prevent advertisers from capitalising on them. All platforms have facilitated coronavirus-related ads from public health authorities and healthcare organisations.

Delivering on the Joint Communication, the Commission will gather, on a monthly basis, specific indicators from the platforms to monitor the effectiveness and impact of their policies in curbing the spread of disinformation related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Building both on the actions listed in the Joint Communication, and addressing the shortcomings identified in today's assessment of the Code, the Commission will deliver on its comprehensive approach by presenting two complementary initiatives by the end of the year: a European Democracy Action plan and a Digital Services Act package. They will further strengthen the EU's work to counter disinformation and to adapt to evolving threats and manipulations, support free and independent media, better regulate the digital informational space and upgrade the ground-rules for all internet services. A public consultation on the former is ongoing until 15 September while the consultation on the latter ended earlier this week.

Background

The assessment published today delivers on a specific action point of the December 2018 Action Plan against Disinformation, which charged the Commission to carry out a comprehensive assessment of the Code at the conclusion of its initial 12-month period of application. Online platforms signatories to the Code (Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Mozilla and, as from June 2020, TikTok) committed to put in place policies aimed at:

  • (1) 
    reducing opportunities for advertising placements and economic incentives for actors that disseminate disinformation online,
  • (2) 
    enhancing transparency of political advertising, by labelling political ads and providing searchable repositories of such ads,
  • (3) 
    taking action against, and disclose information about the use by malicious actors of manipulative techniques on platforms' services designed to artificially boost the dissemination of information online and enable certain false narrative to become viral,
  • (4) 
    setting up technological features that give prominence to trustworthy information, so that users have more instruments and tools to critically assess content they access online, and
  • (5) 
    engaging in collaborative activities with fact-checkers and the research community, including media literacy initiatives.

The Code asked signatories, which include also trade associations representing the advertising industry, to report on the implementation of their commitments, based on annual self-assessment reports, and to cooperate with the Commission in assessing the Code. The assessment published today takes into consideration these annual self-assessment reports, a study carried out by an independent consultancy, Valdani, Vicari and Associates, a monitoring report carried out by European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services (ERGA), and the Commission's report on the 2019 elections.

Further Information

The Code of Practice against Disinformation

2018 Action plan against disinformation

Joint Communication - Tackling COVID-19 disinformation: getting the facts right

Fighting disinformation during coronavirus pandemic

Factsheet

EU vs disinfo website - https://euvsdisinfo.eu/think-before-you-share/

The European Digital Media Observatory