The EU is stepping up action to tackle harmful disinformation surrounding the coronavirus, while respecting the freedom of expression.
The coronavirus pandemic not only affected public health and the economy, but it also triggered another dangerous wave - disinformation, which can also harm health, hamper efforts to contain the pandemic or even spark criminal activities. The EU is intensifying efforts to tackle this, while protecting the freedom of expression.
Debate in Parliament
On 18 June, Parliament debated tackling Covid-19 disinformation and the impact on freedom of expression with Nikolina Brnjac, representing the Croatian Presidency of the Council; Josep Borrell, the EU's foreign affairs chief; and Věra Jourová, the Commissioner for Values and Transparency.
The debate considered the impact of disinformation and the need for increased action to tackle it as well as the risk of governments using the pandemic as an excuse to limit fundamental rights and freedom of expression.
Jourová praised measures taken by online platforms to tackle disinformation during the crisis, but said there is room for improvement. The European Commission called on them to report monthly on their policies and actions to address Covid-19 disinformation.
Talking about the importance of increasing society's resilience, the commissioner said: “Lying is neither new nor that scary in itself. What scares me is that we believe in those lies too easily.”
MEPs broadly supported what the Commission has done to tackle disinformation, but stressed that the EU needs tougher legislation. Some MEPs expressed concern about the supervision of fact checkers and the potential impact on free speech.
In a vote on 18 June, Parliament established a special committee on foreign interference in all democratic processes in the EU, including disinformation.
On 1 June, the EU launched the European Digital Media Observatory to provide a hub for fact-checkers, academics and other relevant stakeholders to collaborate with media to try and combat disinformation. Later this year, the Commission plans to launch a €9 million call for proposals to create regional media research hubs.
Initiative to tackle disinformation
In March, the European Council pledged to counter disinformation with transparent, timely and fact-based communication. On 10 June, the Commission came up with measures to tackle the infodemic. The initiative focuses on:
- Understanding - distinguishing between illegal content and content that is harmful but not illegal, and between disinformation and misinformation, which can be unintentional
- Communicating - the EU will continue actively tackling disinformation
- Cooperating - continuing and enhancing cooperation between EU institutions, member states and international players like the World Health Organization and Nato as well as NGOs in the fight against disinformation
- Boosting transparency - online platforms should provide monthly reports on how they act against disinformation and step up cooperation with fact-checkers in all EU countries
- Ensuring freedom of expression - the Commission will continue to monitor how emergency measures introduced by member states in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic influence EU laws and values
- Raising awareness - increasing societal resilience by promoting critical thinking and digital skills
These measures will become part of measures on disinformation that the EU is currently working on, including those that are within the scope of the European Democracy Action Plan and the Digital Services Act.
Check out our timeline of EU measures to fight Covid-19 and its impact