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EU proposes stricter anti-disinformation code

May 26, 2021

The EU wants tech giants such as Facebook and Google to do more to tackle disinformation on their platforms.

European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova and Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton
European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova and Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton unveiled the code proposals in BrusselsImage: Dursun Aydemir/Hans Lucas/picture alliance

The EU has announced plans to beef up its code of practice on online disinformation, with the aim of preventing digital ad companies from earning profits from fake news.

The new proposals from the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, come amid concerns about the role of social media and tech giants in the spread of false information online, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic.

"Disinformation cannot remain a source of revenue. We need to see stronger commitments by online platforms, the entire advertising ecosystem and networks of fact-checkers," EU industry chief Thierry Breton said.

The proposals build on a voluntary and nonbinding code of practice that was launched by the bloc in 2018.

Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, TikTok and Mozilla, as well as a number of advertisers, have signed on to the code. The new guidelines aim to push signatories to go further with their commitments.

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What are the new proposals?

The EU executive said it wants ad exchanges, ad-tech providers, brands benefiting from ads and private messaging services to sign on to the code.

"Disinformation still is something that sells well, so we want to also engage the advertising industry not to place ads next to disinformation," European Commission Vice President for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova told a press conference in Brussels.

The stricter code calls for increased transparency about why certain adverts are displayed, and for platforms to share information with each other about adverts that have been rejected for spreading debunked content.

"This is not censorship, but we want the platforms to use more fact-checking," Jourova said, adding that it was time for big tech companies "to stop policing themselves alone and stop allowing [themselves] to make money on disinformation, while fully preserving the freedom of speech."

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Facebook, Twitter respond

Twitter said in a statement that it "supports an inclusive approach that takes a wider look at the information ecosystem to address the challenges of disinformation."

"We support the Commission's focus on greater transparency for users and better collaboration both amongst platforms and across the advertising ecosystem," Facebook said.

The EU is planning to implement the updated code of practice early next year.

nm/aw (Reuters, dpa, AP, AFP)