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EU experts present a strategy to counter online misinformation

The EU relies on HLEG experts to study a strategy to counter misinformation on the Internet

EU is studying how counter misinformation online, not only limited to fake news. But also to all forms of false, inaccurate, or misleading information designed, presented and promoted to intentionally cause public harm or for profit. In January European Commission set up a high-level group of experts (HLE) to advise on policy initiatives to counter fake news and disinformation spread online. The HLEG consisted of 39 members and was chaired by Prof. Dr. Madeleine de Cock Buning. Its members had different backgrounds, including academia and journalism, written press and broadcasting organizations, online platforms as well as civil society and fact-checking organizations. The group has just presented a report identifying the main threats and proposing an approach to neutralize them. Both short and long term.

What is online misinformation, who and why it spreads it

First of all, the HLEG clearly specifies what is meant by misinformation. Not just fake news; but all forms of false, inaccurate or misleading information designed, presented and promoted to intentionally cause public harm or for profit. Instead, it does not cover issues arising from the creation and dissemination online of illegal content (notably defamation, hate speech, incitement to violence), which are subject to regulatory remedies under EU or national laws. Nor other forms of deliberate but not misleading distortions of facts such a satire and parody. The problems caused by misinformation are intertwined with the development of digital media. They are led by actors – state or non-state politicians, profit, media, citizens, individually or in groups – and by manipulative uses of communication infrastructures, exploited to produce, spread and amplify the phenomenon on a larger scale than in the past, often in new ways still poorly mapped and understood.

The risks of misinformation, according to experts, although it is not necessarily illegal

Furthermore, the HLEG recognizes that – although it is not necessarily illegal -, misinformation can still be harmful for citizens and society at large. Risks include threats to democratic political processes, including the integrity of elections (as has happened repeatedly in the EU, US and many other areas of the world); as well as democratic values, which shape public policies in a variety of sectors. From health to science, passing through finance and more.

HLEG: Misinformation can be beaten, but under certain conditions. The EU has to avoid simplistic solutions or that cause fragmentation and damage to the Internet

The HLEG, however, is convinced that disinformation, cyber in the first place, can be beaten. In the most effective way and fully consistent with freedom of expression, freedom of press and pluralism. This, however, provided that a series of conditions occur. First of all, within the EU and abroad the main stakeholders must work together. Furthermore, continuous research, greater transparency and access to relevant data, combined with regular evaluation of responses, must be permanently ensured. This is particularly important, as misinformation is a multifaceted and evolving problem that has not a single root cause. By the way, the group of experts advises against the European Union to adopt simplistic solutions and to avoid, therefore, any form of public or private censorship and actions that lead to a fragmentation of the Internet or any harmful consequences for its technical functioning.

The HLEG is proposing a constantly evolving short- and long-term strategy to the EU

The HLEG in its report to the EU has drawn up a series of recommendations with a dual purpose. First and foremost they aim to provide short-term responses to the most urgent problems related to misinformation. In addition, they propose long-term actions to increase the resilience of society to the phenomenon and a framework to ensure that the effectiveness of these responses is continually assessed, while new ones are developed according to lessons learned. The multidimensional approach that experts recommend is based on a number of interconnected and mutually reinforcing responses, which are based on 5 pillars.

The 5 pillars of the group of experts against misinformation

According to the HLEG in EU it is necessary to (1) enhance transparency of online news, involving an adequate and privacy-compliant sharing of data about the systems that enable their circulation online; furthermore, to (2) promote media and information literacy to counter disinformation and help users navigate the digital media environment. Not only. It’s useful to (3) develop tools for empowering users and journalists to tackle disinformation and foster a positive engagement with fast-evolving information technologies. Then EU (4) must safeguard the diversity and sustainability of the European news media ecosystem, and (5) promote continued research on the impact of disinformation in Europe to evaluate the measures taken by different actors and constantly adjust the necessary responses.

The integral final report of HLEG to EU (file PDF)


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