Commission publishes Disinformation Action Plan

On 5 December 2018, the European Commission published the Action Plan on Disinformation. It follows the earlier communications and actions taken by the EU institutions in the run up to the 2019 European Parliament elections, including the Code of Practice on Disinformation. EACA was part of the Working Group that drafted the Code, representing the interests of agencies, making sure that the commitments remain feasible for them and reflecting areas where agencies can indeed make a difference. EACA signed the Code in October.

The Commission’s current Action Plan sets out four priority areas to ensure joint and coordinated action against disinformation: 1) improved capabilities (of the EU) to detect, analyse and expose disinformation, 2) better coordination among EU institutions and Member States (incl. a Rapid Alert System and prompt reaction), 3) private sector actions and 4) awareness-raising. In doing so, the European Commission (EC) wants to protect the democratic process in view of more than 50 upcoming elections across the EU by 2020.

Regarding private sector action, the Action Plan calls on the signatories of the voluntary Code of Practice on Disinformation (platforms and the advertising industry) to deliver on their commitments set out in the Code. The Action Plan officially asks, in particular, platforms to ensure the scrutiny of ad placements and transparency of political advertising, to close down fake accounts, to identify and label automated bots, and to cooperate with national audio-visual regulators and independent fact-checkers. The EC will monitor progress, and “push for rapid and effective compliance” where needed. If progress is deemed unsatisfactory, the Commission threatens with further action, including “of regulatory nature”.

The EC also, and more interestingly, published a progress report outlining in more detail how it expects to monitor progress on the implementation of the Code, listing a number of measurable KPIs without naming them so. In addition, it sets out further how it intends to support the set-up of an independent network of fact-checkers. Under the label “online accountability”, the EC explores how to identify suppliers of information – a controversial idea that would mean the factual end of online anonymity. The EC also lays out which new technologies it intends to fund that could help detect disinformation.