Big Tech backs a new EU code of practice to fight fake news

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Backed up by the Digital Services Act, Big Tech companies that repeatedly break the EU anti-disinformation code could risk a 6pc fine on their global turnover.

Meta, Google, Twitter and Microsoft are just some of the major tech companies that have signed up to new, strengthened guidance from the European Commission that aims to tackle disinformation.

Published today (16 June), the Code of Practice on Disinformation 2022 is the EU’s latest push to crack down on fake news content on the internet. It follows the lessons learnt during the past two years with the pandemic and Russia’s war on Ukraine.

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“This new anti-disinformation code comes at a time when Russia is weaponising disinformation as part of its military aggression against Ukraine, but also when we see attacks on democracy more broadly,” said European Commission VP for values and transparency Věra Jourová.

“We now have very significant commitments to reduce the impact of disinformation online and much more robust tools to measure how these are implemented across the EU in all countries and in all its languages.”

Jourová added that the new code would give users access to “better tools to flag disinformation and understand what they are seeing” as well as reduce financial incentives for disseminating disinformation and allow researchers to access to platforms’ data more easily.

It builds on the self-regulatory Code of Practice on Disinformation published in 2018, which was signed by representatives from online platforms, leading tech companies and advertising players.

The strengthened code currently has 34 signatories, including Meta, Google, Twitter and TikTok, as well as smaller platforms, online ad companies, fact-checkers and organisations working in the area of tackling fake news.

The code of practice will be backed up by the Digital Services Act, the landmark EU legislation that will force tech companies to take control of content moderation.

This means that Big Tech companies with large platforms that repeatedly break the Code of Practice on Disinformation and do not carry out risk mitigation measures may be fined up to 6pc of their global turnover.

“Disinformation is a form of invasion of our digital space, with tangible impact on our daily lives,” said EU commissioner for the internal market Thierry Breton.

“Online platforms need to act much strongly, especially on the issue of funding. Spreading disinformation should not bring a single euro to anyone.”

The publication of the new code came on the same day as the European Parliament’s Internal Market Committee endorsed the provisionally reached agreement with EU governments on the DSA.

The DSA legislation is now expected to be put for a final vote in the European Parliament next month before it and the Digital Markets Act are formally adopted by the European Council.

Breton said that in order for the Code of Practice on Disinformation to be credible, it “will be backed up by the DSA, including for heavy dissuasive sanctions”.

Meta global affairs president Nick Clegg, the former UK deputy prime minister who was recently promoted, tweeted in support of the new, strengthened code.

“Combating the spread of [misinformation] is a complex and evolving societal issue. We continue to invest heavily in teams and technology, and we look forward to more collaboration to address it together,” he wrote.

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