The European Commission (the Commission) began to invite feedback on April 1 on its roadmap to strengthen the Code of Practice on Disinformation (the Code) via new guidance. The roadmap was released in response to perceived failings of the Code to date to tackle the spread of disinformation on online platforms.
The Code’s Introduction
The Code was introduced for online platforms and other relevant stakeholders in September 2018 and contains a list of commitments for signatories to adopt in order to prevent the spread of disinformation via online platforms. The Code is a self-regulating instrument and signing up is voluntary. Current signatories include Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. For the purpose of the Code, “disinformation” is defined as “verifiably false or misleading information” which is created for economic gain or to deceive the public, and which may cause public harm. The Code also includes a section dedicated to assessing its success in achieving its goals. This includes an initial assessment period of 12 months culminating in a report evaluating the Code’s efficacy.
The Code’s Shortcomings
In September 2020, the Commission published an assessment and accompanying press release regarding the effectiveness of the Code. The assessment found that the Code needed both strengthening and monitoring. It noted that while the Code was a “very valuable instrument” and had achieved a great deal, it also failed in respect of:
- inconsistencies in application across platforms and member states;
- a lack of uniform definitions;
- gaps in scope;
- limited participation; and
- a lack of independent oversight mechanisms.
The Roadmap and Next Steps
The Commission’s roadmap states that the aim of the proposed new guidance (Guidance) is to make the Code “a powerful risk-mitigating instrument fighting the spread of disinformation effectively.” In response to the shortcomings highlighted in the September 2020 assessment, the Guidance will recommend reinforcing the commitments of the signatories and putting in place effective oversight mechanisms.
In particular, the Guidance will target the following aspects of the Code:
- Reducing the monetisation of disinformation linked to sponsored content
- Increasing the volume of fact-checking that takes place
- Strengthening the integrity of services offered by online platforms
- Exploring transparent standards for the criteria used for the visibility of authoritative information of public interest and for maintaining of a plurality of views
- Exploring measures to provide users with tools and information to assess the source of information
- Ensuring effective data disclosure for research on disinformation
- Monitoring the impact of disinformation and the effectiveness of platforms’ policies
A feedback period on the roadmap runs for four weeks from 1 April to 29 April 2021. As of today, 12 pieces of feedback had been submitted. The Commission plans to adopt the Guidance, which will be shared via a Commission Communication, in the second quarter of 2021. The Commission intends for the Guidance to sit alongside the Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act to prevent the spread of disinformation to the greatest extent possible.
Trainee solicitor Ben Rouse contributed to this blog post.