Fake News and Online Disinformation: The European Commission Report and EAVI’s Opinion


With its 15 years experience in the field EAVi was disappointed not to be invited to join the High Level Expert Group (HLEG) to advise on fake news and disinformation online and represent citizens interests.

The Report from the High Level Expert Group (HLEG) to advise on fake news and disinformation online has just been published. The group consisted of representatives from different organisations and professionals and the report necessarily reflects their respective interests. With its 15 years experience in the field EAVi was disappointed not to be invited to join this group and represent citizens interests. Unfortunately, notwithstanding EAVI is the organisations which has worked the longest on media literacy and disinformation in Europe, with research and policy, determining for instance the reintroduction of media literacy – which was removed in the EC proposal – in the AVMSD, we have not been invited. 

Nevertheless EAVI welcomes the report as a positive step towards recognising the danger disinformation poses and recommending initial actions to combat this. The EC has been very active on this topic in the last months. It is not an easy task as research evidence is missing, lobbying is powerful, and experts often represent not much more than their personal opinion. So it is not a surprise that the report, and the EC so far, have failed to envisage effective solutions.

The report dismisses the term “fake news” in its entirety, which is welcome news for the media literacy community who have long since disliked the phrase as reductive and politically-loaded. It focuses on the importance of media literacy (here suddenly called MIL by the EC), calling for large-scale implementation of media literacy in schools in order to have any real impact, as well as forming a part of life-long learning programmes.
It adds that funding should be plugged into quality journalism and media literacy initiatives, suggesting “public-private-civil partnership” schemes. Also, the Report recommends regular reportage by Member States and relevant stakeholders on these initiatives in order to feed in recommendations.

Otherwise, for the time being, it largely allows regulatory bodies not to take any responsibility for the recommended policy. Although it mentions the possibility of funding in its recommendations and actions, none would be binding.

The report is particularly disappointing when dealing with the role of platforms. EAVI finds imperative that Facebook and Google for instance, must be held more accountable for the content they share. Instead it is proposed that they take some actions, which in fact, are already being taken, including clearly marking sponsored content, working with fact-checking organisations and applying flagging systems for suspect content. The report does, however nonchalantly, reference the importance of breaking through the veil of secrecy surrounding the way platforms use algorithms, and being transparent in allowing research and public accountability.

We assert that these big USA-based tech companies such as Facebook have been able so far to escape fundamental duties in Europe and unfortunately we remain skeptical in disciplining their behavior in the public interest with only a code of conduct. At thesame time we remain convinced that their cooperation is essential.

If you want to know more about our opinion on the matter, here you can find EAVI’s opinion on fake news and disinformation compiled for the European Commission public consultation.

Through the questionnaire, EAVI described the necessary criteria to define fake news, identified main factors contributing to the increasing spread of disinformation, and contributed with the assessment of measures needed among online platforms and news media organisations.