Director General of DG Connect at the EC, Roberto Viola, gave speech to the European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and EducationI explaining what the EU is doing in response to the threats posed by disinformation and fake news, especially in the context of the forthcoming European elections.
The internet has not only increased the volume and variety of news available but has also profoundly changed the ways we access and engage with news. New technologies can be used, notably through social media, to disseminate disinformation on a scale and with speed that is unprecedented. Therefore, the disinformation circulating on the major platforms can polarise public debate, create tensions in society, and ultimately undermine our electoral systems.
Measures taken in view of the upcoming elections
Currently, efforts are mainly dedicated to an intensive targeted monitoring of the implementation of the Code of Practice on disinformation, to ensure that policies with particular pertinence to electoral processes are in place ahead of the European elections. In this regard, online platforms have committed to acting swiftly to effectively protect users from disinformation. In particular, Google, Facebook and Twitter are changing their services in order to:
- Improve scrutiny of ad placements and disrupting advertising revenues of accounts and websites that spread disinformation;
- Make political advertising and issue based advertising more transparent;
- Address the issue of fake accounts and online bots.
In view of the upcoming elections but also with a longer-term perspective, the High Representative, in cooperation with the Member States, is strengthening the Strategic Communication Task Forces and Union Delegations through additional staff and new tools, which are necessary to detect, analyse and expose disinformation activities.
Furthermore, the Commission has also set up a European election cooperation network, which has already discussed progress in implementing the Commission’s elections package, and very recently, in collaboration with the High- Representative and the Member States, activated the Rapid Alert System (RAS). The RAS allows the sharing of relevant instances of disinformation and the detection of malicious cross-border activities and thereby enables common situational awareness, coordinated attribution and response. The outcome of its work will be shared with the European election cooperation network, in particular to exchange information on threats relevant to elections and support the possible application of sanctions. In particular, the RAS is looking at disinformation threatening democratic processes and cases of foreign influence operations. It will allow a better an effective share of information and best practices between Member States and European authorities to foster real-time responses.
Furthermore, to test preparedness against cybersecurity incidents affecting the European elections, the Commission, together with the EU Cybersecurity Agency (ENISA), the European Parliament and Member States is organising an EU level table-top exercise on 5 April 2019. This cyber-resilience exercise is aimed at improving coordination between Member States and enhancing cooperation between cybersecurity authorities and election authorities at national level.
As regards the support of the creation of a European network of independent fact- checkers in view of the European elections, the Commission is providing, through the Horizon 2020 support action SOMA (Social Observatory for Disinformation and Social Media Analysis), a platform for independent fact-checkers and researchers that features access to public data and collaborative tools. We expect this platform to provide the technical means to increase capacity of detecting and analysing disinformation campaign all over Europe.
Another key element is the promotion of media literacy. Media literacy enables citizens to evaluate the credibility of information they encounter online and to access alternative points of view.
Envisaged next measures
Emphasis will be put on continuation reinforcing and expanding all actions. In particular,
- the monitoring of the Code of practice before and after the European elections.
- further increased capacity of detecting and analysing disinformation campaigns (deployment of a new digital service infrastructure for the establishment of a European Platform on Disinformation).
- Investing through Horizon 2020 and the new Framework Programme on the use of new technologies like AI to create tools, which can assist human decision on the veracity of online content.
Roberto Viola, Online disinformation: a major challenge for Europe