During the COVID-19 crisis, people witnessed an unprecedented amount of disinformation. Bad actors spread false information in bad faith—capitalizing on the fear and uncertainty of people—such as different conspiracy theories about the origins of the pandemic, or tried to deceive consumers by advertising fake medicine.
United European action against disinformation
That is the reason why the Commission decided to step up and tackle the spread of disinformation, which is outlined in their paper. I support the united European action against disinformation; however, it should go hand in hand with clear safeguards for freedom of expression in case of wrongful labeling of content.
From clear definition to fast action for the protection of victims and safeguards
It is essential to define clearly what we mean about disinformation. Without this, fight against disinformation—especially during state of emergency—can effectively lead to censorship (see for instance Hungary). Freedom of expression is applicable not only to “information” or “ideas” that are favorably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference. We need to make clear that in case of disinformation, there’s an intention to deceive, cause public harm, or make economic gain.
We also need to define who can decide on the authenticity, accuracy, or authoritative nature of the content. So far, instead of legislation, we relied on industry self-regulation at European level (Code of conduct on disinformation). Private companies were tasked to arbitrate on free speech matters and urged to monitor their platforms for suspicious activity. This can have a negative impact on public debate, if there’s no remedy available for those whose content is mislabeled. Unfortunately—despite several criticism—this wasn’t corrected by the Commission, instead they encourage new companies to join the Code of Conduct.
While, I support the new initiative to create more transparency on advertising, manipulative behavior, and actions taken by platforms, this won’t offer remedy for the victims of mislabeling. And I clearly oppose to further aggravating this by sponsoring filters. Finally, I welcome the efforts to provide more access for researchers and fact-checkers; however, funding has to be extended to NGOs as well, given that many initiatives are run by them.