The European Commission has published guidance about how it thinks the 2018 Code of Practice on Disinformation could be strengthened to become a more effective tool for countering disinformation.  

The issue of disinformation was already topical in the UK in light of the Brexit referendum and more generally regarding the election of Donald Trump on 2016, and has become more so due to disinformation being spread about the coronavirus pandemic and vaccination.

The Commission calls for changes to the Code in these areas:

  • Larger participation with tailored commitments. The Commission encourages established and emerging platforms, other organisations involved in online advertising (such as ad exchanges, ad-tech providers and brands benefitting from ads), private messaging services, as well as organisations who can contribute to the Code's effective functioning, to join the Code. The strengthened Code should include new tailored commitments corresponding to the size and nature of services provided by signatories.
  • Demonetise disinformation. The Commission wants platforms and other organisations involved in online advertising to defund disinformation, notably by exchanging information on disinformation ads refused by one of the signatories, improving transparency and accountability around ad placements and barring participation by those who systematically post content which has already been debunked.
  • Ensure the integrity of services. The strengthened Code should provide a comprehensive coverage of the current and emerging forms of manipulative behaviour used to spread disinformation (such as bots, fake accounts, organised manipulation campaigns and account takeovers).  It should also include tailored commitments to ensure transparency and accountability of measures taken to reduce its impact.Empower users to understand and flag disinformation. Users need to have access to tools to better understand and safely navigate the online environment. The signatories must make their recommender systems (the way users see content) transparent.  They should also take measures to mitigate the risks that these create, such as the viral spread of disinformation. In addition, signatories should provide their users with accessible, effective tools and procedures to flag disinformation with the potential to cause public or individual harm. Users whose content or accounts have been subject to measures taken in response to such flagging, should have access to an appropriate and transparent mechanism to appeal and seek redress. The strengthened code should also enhance the visibility of reliable information of public interest, and warn users who interacted with content marked as false by fact-checkers.
  • Increase the coverage of fact-checking and providing increased access to data to researchers. The Code should include better cooperation with fact-checkers and increase coverage across EU countries and languages. The Code should also include a robust framework for access to data for researchers.
  • A robust monitoring framework. The revised Code should include an improved monitoring framework based on clear key performance indicators measuring the results and impact of actions taken by the platforms as well as the overall impact of the Code on disinformation in the EU. Platforms should regularly report on the measures taken and their relevant key performance indicators to the Commission. Information and data should be provided by the platforms in standardised formats, with breakdowns across the member states.

Finally, signatories to the Code are advised to develop a Transparency Centre where they indicate which policies they have adopted to implement the Code's commitments, how they have been enforced, and display all the data and metrics relevant to the key performance indicators.

The Guidance also proposes that a task force help review and adapt the Code in view of technological, societal, market and legislative developments.

Next steps
The Commission will arrange for the signatories of the Code of Practice to convene and work on strengthening the Code in line with the Guidance. It also encourages new signatories to join the Code. The Commission wants to provide a first draft of the revised Code in the autumn.

As a footnote to this guidance, the Commission also plans legislation this year to improve the transparency of political advertising.