Countering online disinformation is one of the biggest challenges democracies face today.
Disinformation is nothing new but with the growth of social media platforms, it has become easier and faster for it to spread. “Harmless,” you might think, but it is becoming clear that disinformation can affect public opinion, create divisions in society and undermine trust in public institutions and electoral systems.
The European Union is listening to the concerns raised and taking serious action to counter the phenomenon. Here are 10 things the EU is doing to tackle disinformation:
1. Improving detection and analysis
Ever seen a story online, and doubted what you were reading? The EU has a dedicated team, whose job it is to identify examples of disinformation targeting the EU and its citizens. Whether it is claims that “‘the fire at the Notre Dame was a satanic ritual,” or that “Germany will become a Muslim country by 2050,” you can delve into the EUvsDisinfo public database, where more than 6,000 such cases have been debunked to date.
2. Protecting the integrity of elections
The prevalence of disinformation has increased the risk of interference and manipulation in elections. The EU has taken steps to make sure that our elections run freely and fairly. This set of measures includes protecting your personal data, guaranteeing the transparency of the political ads you see online, tightening cybersecurity, and bringing together authorities from all EU countries to tackle the threat jointly and, where necessary, impose sanctions.
3. Debunking EU-related myths
None of us are strangers to some of the wackier myths published about the EU (see some of the best examples below). We have developed a series of tailored campaigns in different EU countries, debunking the local variations of those ‘Euromyths’.
Baffled by some of the claims you read about the EU? Then check out Bolas de Bruxelas in Portugal, Slovakia’s ‘Euromyty’ and the German initiative.
Fact or fiction? The most far-fetched Euromyths of 2018
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Fact or fiction? The most far-fetched Euromyths of 2017
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4. Bringing EU countries together
In a Union of 500 million citizens living in different countries, it is not always easy to keep track of the latest Euromyths doing the rounds. When one misleading story breaks in France, it is useful to follow its spread across borders, and monitor the responses it receives. A new dedicated digital platform — the Rapid Alert System — makes it easier for national contact points to work together and develop responses to the myths as they appear.
5. Cooperating with online platforms
Social media is nowadays the main vector for the spread of disinformation, and the EU and national governments cannot tackle it alone. Leading internet companies like Google, Mozilla, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft signed a voluntary EU-wide Code of Practice on Disinformation. By doing so, the platforms committed themselves to being stricter in applying their own policies and community guidelines, ridding their platforms of fake and bot accounts and making it clearer when you see a political advert and who is paying for it. The Commission follows the implementation closely.
6. Promoting media literacy
To avoid falling victim to disinformation, it is more important than ever to think critically about what we read or hear. The EU set up the annual European Media Literacy Week to highlight more than 320 events promoting media literacy across Europe. We also recognise projects like Lie Detectors that encourage schoolchildren to think critically. Learn more about its founder Juliane von Reppert- Bismarck and her work here.
7. Empowering civil society
To tackle the problem, we first need a better understanding of the sources of disinformation. This means getting a better grasp of the intentions, tools and objectives behind it, and the ways in which we are vulnerable to it. The EU encourages NGOs and citizen-run organisations to be active and vigilant in identifying and exposing disinformation. Everyone can make a difference, even by replying to a misinformed comment under an online article and setting the record straight with facts. One such initiative is the volunteer-based project Keyboard Warriors in Poland. Read more on Weronika Ostrowiecka’s role as a Local Coordinator of the project here.
Stopping online disinformation: six ways you can help
Disinformation is no joke. We all need to work together to help stop it from spreading. Here are some practical tips.
8. Facilitating the work of fact-checkers
The work of independent fact-checkers and researchers is becoming more important in the age of disinformation. By bringing together teams from different EU countries and creating a more cohesive community that can share their experiences, they can continue to fine-tune the way they work. One way the EU helps is by investing in new technologies that verify content and track the spread of disinformation across social media, such as Truly Media, co-developed by Nikos Sarris and his team.
9. Improving societal resilience
When citizens are aware about the positive impact of the EU’s policies and values on their everyday lives, they also become more resilient to the negative effects of disinformation. Our communication campaigns InvestEU, EUandMe and EU Protects inform Europeans about their rights, how the EU benefits their daily lives and protects them against some of today’s global challenges. Armed with this knowledge, Europeans are less likely to be misled or misinformed about what the EU stands for.
10. Supporting quality journalism
We promote media freedom because we believe that the work of independent media is essential to creating the free and open public debate necessary for a healthy democracy. Support to independent media and investigative journalists underpins high quality, factual reporting that can expose disinformation.