A trial run for the EU’s co-regulatory approach: the Strengthened Code of Practice on Disinformation

By Miguel Pereira (Master in European Union Law from the School of Law of the University of Minho)

On the 16 June 2022 the Strengthened Code of Practice on Disinformation was signed and presented to the European Commission, marking the end of a year long process that revamped the original 2018 Code of Practice on Disinformation.

The Strengthened Code, following the lines of the 2018 Code, is a self-regulatory and voluntary mechanism by which participants of the digital economy assume commitments to combat disinformation online. It forms part of a wider strategy that has been developed by the EU institutions since 2018 but has assumed a central role in the EU’s response to phenomenon. The 2018 Code was particularly important to highlight the mechanisms that online platforms had developed (and could develop) to address the issues this threat posed to their services and allowed for closer cooperation between its signatories and the Commission, with special focus around two events: the 2019 European Parliament election and the Covid-19 crisis.

Notwithstanding the successes we have highlighted and the groundbreaking nature of the initiative, a 2020 assessment of the implementation of the code levied criticism at the lack of oversight, erratic reporting practices, vagueness of the commitments, relatively disappointing adherence by industry players and difficulty in evaluating its effectiveness and enforcing the commitments vis-á-vis its signatories. Based on this assessment, the Commission issued a guidance calling for a strengthening of the Code’s structure and commitments and laying out specific areas which merited improvement. The signatories heeded the call and led the review process, with the resulting Strengthened Code closely following the recommendations laid out in the Commission’s Guidance.

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Defining disinformation in the EU: a matter beyond linguistics

Miguel Pereira (Master’s student in European Union Law at the School of Law of the University of Minho)

The EU has been a trailblazer in what regards combating disinformation. Through initiatives involving online platforms and drafting of long-term strategies tackling multiple fronts, it has recognized the issue and attempted to address it through non-regulatory policy making. The instruments that have been put forth to combat the phenomenon are often controversial (as is to be expected in all discussions impacting freedom of expression and information) and their effectiveness hard to assess. The debate surrounding these instruments tends to absorb most of the attention, leaving less room to discuss the actual definition of disinformation. This concept is, nonetheless, vital to the successful implementation of policies in this area and to an adequate protection of fundamental rights in the EU, meriting a closer look.

Disinformation is often wrongly equated to, and used interchangeably with, “fake news”. This approach muddles the debate with imprecision and can be particularly pernicious for two reasons. On one side, it does not adequately capture the full scope of the problem which goes well beyond fake news reporting and includes a wide array of:

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Reclaiming the Truth: the role of European citizens on countering fake news

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by Rui Vieira, master's student in EU law at University of Minho

The epidemic of unrestrained fake News on social medial in the latest years has revealed itself to be a major concern for the European democratic culture. The same way there is a massive amount of information circulating, there is also a massive amount of misinformation and sensationalistic, unreliable information flowing through Social Networks. The repercussions and negative effects on public opinion are varied. From social tension to the promotion of demagogy, uncertainty and pessimistic skepticism on the public opinion.

Facing such global-scaled problems, the Commission wants its citizens to feedback on fake news and online disinformation. A Public consultation on the ways to tackle this online problem is available between November and February.

The demand for possible regulation for this problem came after a 2017 Resolution by the European Parliament calling on the Commission to analyse in depth the current situation and legal framework with regards to fake news and to verify the possibility of legislative intervention.

In fact, the advent of Social Networks did nothing more than to increase older concerns. In the last century, it was already discussed if there is a conceptual distance between news and the truth and if a democratic public opinion is compatible with a free press and the search for the truth[i].

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