Waging War with Fake News: New EU Legislation Vows to Crack Down on Disinformation

Written by | Tuesday, December 8th, 2020

The European Commission is planning a sanctions regime against foreign interference and disinformation efforts from next year, EU Commission Vice-President Vera Jourova confirmed on Thursday (3 December), naming China and Russia among the culprits. The EU executive will also introduce legislation on the transparency of online political advertising, with Jourova adding she wants to limit the micro-targeting criteria for political advertisements. It is part of a series of planned measures aimed at better protecting free elections in a digital age, strengthen independent media, and counter disinformation. „I don’t want elections to be a competition in dirty methods,” said the EU’s Vera Jourova.
Through the draft law, expected to be unveiled in the third quarter of 2021, the Commission plans to limit the influence of state actors on elections in Europe, which will also seek to “impose a cost” on those who spread fake news. According to Jourova, the legislation will target especially “foreign actors” from such countries as Russia and China, that spread disinformation. “We are not looking to become the Ministry of Truth,” the senior EU official told the press, referring to George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, but the new regulation would rather seek “to ensure fair public debates.” The executive’s vice-president also pointed out that “new technologies should be tools for emancipation, not disinformation. I don’t want elections to be a competition in dirty methods. We saw enough with the Cambridge Analytica and the Brexit referendum.”
Any kind of sanctions would likely follow the EU’s cyber-sanction regime, which was used for the first time this year to freeze assets and introduce visa bans on offenders — primarily Chinese, Russian and North Korean citizens and companies — believed to have attacked the bloc. It’s the first time that the European Commission has suggested imposing sanctions for the spread of disinformation. The EU already has its East StratCom Task Force, a division of the EU’s External Action Service (EEAS), that monitors Russian disinformation. It has identified 10,000 examples of pro-Kremlin disinformation since it started monitoring in 2015. Jourova said Europeans were being inundated with “an avalanche” of misinformation, especially during the current coronavirus pandemic, which aims to harm people in Europe. Next week the EU will also propose new laws for online platforms such Google, Facebook and Twitter to take more action on the transparency of ad placements and moves against fake accounts.

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