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EU asks online platforms to report on fake coronavirus news

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EU asks online platforms to report on fake coronavirus news

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(BRUSSELS) - The EU stepped up its campaign against online disinformation Wednesday, asking online platforms for monthly reports on actions to promote authoritative content and limit coronavirus disinformation.

The coronavirus pandemic has been accompanied by a massive wave of false or misleading information, including attempts by foreign actors to influence EU citizens and debates, says the Commission, and the Joint Communication just published analyses the immediate response and proposes concrete action that can be quickly set in motion.

"Disinformation in times of the coronavirus can kill," said the EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell: "We have a duty to protect our citizens by making them aware of false information, and expose the actors responsible for engaging in such practices. In today's technology-driven world, where warriors wield keyboards rather than swords and targeted influence operations and disinformation campaigns are a recognised weapon of state and non-state actors, the European Union is increasing its activities and capacities in this fight."

The EU executive stresses the importance of distinguishing between 'illegal content and content that is harmful but not illegal'. Then, there are blurred boundaries between the various forms of false or misleading content: from disinformation, which is defined as intentional, to misinformation, which can be unintentional. The motivation can range from targeted influence operations by foreign actors to purely economic motives. A calibrated response is needed to each of these challenges. Furthermore, it adds, there is a need to provide more data for public scrutiny and improve analytical capacities.

According to estimates, myths around the coronavirus have been viewed more than 7 million times. The Commission says that foreign actors and certain third countries, in particular Russia and China, have engaged in targeted influence operations and disinformation campaigns in the EU, its neighbourhood, and globally. For example, the EEAS East Stratcom Task Force detected and exposed more than 550 disinformation narratives from pro-Kremlin sources on the EUvsDisinfo website.

The Communication finds that many consumers were misled to buy overpriced, ineffective or potentially dangerous products, and platform have removed millions of misleading advertisements. The Commission says it will continue to cooperate with online platforms and support the Consumer Protection Cooperation network of national authorities to fight these practices that infringe consumer protection law.

Following its monitoring of the actions of online platforms under the Code of Practice on Disinformation, the EU executive says there is a need for additional efforts, increased transparency and greater accountability.

Platforms are now asked to provide monthly reports that include more detailed data on their actions to promote authoritative content, improve users' awareness, and limit coronavirus disinformation and advertising related to it. They should also step up their cooperation with fact-checkers - in all Members States, for all languages - and researchers, and be more transparent about implementation of their policies to inform users that interact with disinformation.

The Commission says it will continue to monitor the impact of emergency measures taken by Member States in the coronavirus context, on EU law and values. The EU will strengthen its support to independent media and journalists in the EU and around the world. The Commission calls upon Member States to intensify efforts to ensure that journalists can work safely and to make the most of the EU's economic response and recovery package to support media heavily hit by the crisis, while respecting their independence.

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


Coronavirus response website

Dedicated section on fighting disinformation during coronavirus pandemic

Advice to consumers and businesses on scams related to Covid-19

EU vs disinfo website

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