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EU experts urge code of practice to counter fake news

13 March 2018, 00:15 CET
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EU experts urge code of practice to counter fake news

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(BRUSSELS) - A Code of Practices for online platforms and social networks is one of a series of recommendations put forward Monday by a high-level group of experts set up by the EU to counter the spread of disinformation.

The recommendations from the High-Level Expert Group include promotion of media literacy to counter disinformation; developing tools for empowering users and journalists to tackle disinformation; safeguarding the diversity and sustainability of the European news media; and continuing research on the impact of disinformation in Europe.

"With all the opinions gathered and the extensive collective expertise, we now have at our disposal a wide array of material that will help us put forward a number of tangible options to better address the risks posed by disinformation spread online," said the Commissioner for the Digital Economy Mariya Gabriel.

The report focuses specifically on problems associated with disinformation online rather than fake news. The experts deliberately avoided the term 'fake news', saying it is inadequate to capture the complex problems of disinformation that also involves content which blends fabricated information with facts.

Disinformation is defined as false, inaccurate, or misleading information designed, presented and promoted for profit or to intentionally cause public harm. This can threaten democratic processes, values and can specifically target a variety of sectors, such as health, science, education and finance. The report underlines the need to involve all relevant parties in any possible action, recommending first and foremost a self-regulatory approach.

It advocates a Code of Principles that online platforms and social networks should commit to. Among the 10 key principles outlined in the report, online platforms should, for instance, ensure transparency by explaining how algorithms select the news put forward. In cooperation with European news outlets, they are also encouraged to take effective measures to improve the visibility of reliable, trustworthy news and facilitate users' access to it.

According to the latest Eurobarometer survey (around 26,000 citizens interviewed), people perceive that there is a lot of fake news across the EU with 83% of respondents saying that this phenomenon represents a danger to democracy. It emphasises also the importance of quality media: respondents perceive traditional media as the most trusted source of news (radio 70%, TV 66%, print 63%). Online sources of news and video hosting websites are the least trusted source of news with a trust rate of 26% and 27%, respectively.

The results are confirmed in the public consultation, where the least trust is put in social media, online news aggregators and online blogs and websites, and higher trust in traditional newspapers and magazines, specialised websites and online publications, news agencies and public agencies (overall with more than 70%).

According to the consultation, the overall perception is that the spread of disinformation via social media is made easy because fake news appeal to readers' emotions (88%), are disseminated to orient the public debate (84%) and are conceived to generate revenues (65%). Half of the respondents believe that fact-checking after the disinformation has been published is not a solution as it will not reach the people that saw the initial information.

The report and public consultation will feed into preparation of a Communication on tackling disinformation online, that the Commission will publish in spring.

A multi-dimensional approach to disinformation - 
Report of the independent High level Group on fake 
news and online disinformation

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