Tuesday 19 March 2019

Expert group wants online platforms to sign up to clampdown on disinformation

Editor-in-chief of INM Stephen Rae (right), commissioner for digital economy and society Mariya Gabriel and executive director of News Media Europe Wout van Wijk at yesterday’s launch
Editor-in-chief of INM Stephen Rae (right), commissioner for digital economy and society Mariya Gabriel and executive director of News Media Europe Wout van Wijk at yesterday’s launch
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter should have to sign up to a code of practice accepting responsibility for their role in fighting 'fake news', a new European Commission report says.

The European Union is set to embark on a clampdown of disinformation, which is now posing a threat beyond day-to-day political discourse.

A High Level Expert Group (HLEG), composed of journalists, academics and representatives from the major online platforms, has recommended a series of actions for leaders to take in the coming months.

It acknowledges that while "not necessarily illegal", disinformation can be harmful for citizens and society at large.

"The risk of harm includes threats to democratic political processes, including integrity of elections, and to democratic values that shape public policies in a variety of sectors, such as health, science, finance and more," it says.

Among the key proposals are:

A code of practice for online platforms;

Media and information literacy to be added to the school curriculum;

Taxpayer support for media outlets that provide a public service;

European centres for monitoring the growth of disinformation.

The group, which included Independent News & Media's editor-in-chief Stephen Rae, chose not to use the term "fake news" as it has been "appropriated and used misleadingly by powerful actors to dismiss coverage that is simply found disagreeable".

They say 'disinformation' "goes well beyond the term 'fake news'." Disinformation is defined as including "all forms of false, inaccurate, or misleading information designed, presented and promoted to intentionally cause public harm or for profit".

While much of the report centres on what media outlets and politicians can do to battle disinformation, there is a strong emphasis on the role of digital platforms. It notes online sites "are becoming increasingly important as both enablers and gatekeepers of information".

The HLEG found social media sites have "enabled the production and circulation of disinformation on a larger scale than previously, often in new ways that are still poorly mapped and understood".

Companies should allow access to data so that independent inquiries, audits and research can be made to ensure transparency and authenticity.

It states: "Digital intermediaries such as social networks and online video platforms can impact public opinion by sorting, selecting and ranking news and information via their algorithms. They should therefore be able and willing to act in a responsible way that is commensurate with their powers and the impact their activities can have on forming public opinion."

The report supports the idea of sites committing to a code of practice "without delay". Governments are also encouraged to introduce tax breaks for reliable news outlets, such as VAT exemptions.

Responding to the publication, Mariya Gabriel, commissioner for digital economy and society, said: "This report is just the beginning of the process and will feed the commission reflection on a response to the phenomenon. Our challenge will now lie in delivering concrete options that will safeguard EU values and benefit every European citizen."

Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes said it is important to ensure the steadfast principles of accuracy and truth remain at the heart of all forms of journalism.

Irish Independent

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