Fact-checkers, academics and researchers will be handed a multi-million euro platform to challenge what they deem to be incorrect news reporting. While technical details remain sketchy, the EU says the so-called European Digital Media Observatory will act as a platform “available to everyone to deal with the exchange of disinformation”.
No decisions have been made on the exact targets, but sources claim targeted state-backed attempts by Russia are the main focus.
It is unlikely that political parties or governments across the EU will become the focus because they are “just stating their position”, according to a source.
With its platform, Brussels hopes to unite a series of smaller platforms under its own banner.
“The main problem is fragmentation,” an EU source said.
“They’ll be no hires, it’s just an access point to bring fact-checkers, academics and researchers together in one place.”
The platform will act more as an education tool with no expectation of sweeping powers to be introduced that could force websites and media outlets to delete content deemed unacceptable.
The European Commission has issued a call for tenders to create the platform, which is not expected to be fully functional for many years.
External firms have until December 16, 2019, to compete for the lucrative €2.5 million contract.
In a statement, the Brussels-based EU executive said: “The plan foresees concrete actions to help fact checkers and research in their fight against disinformation.
“The Commission is committed to finance a digital platform which will network together independent national multidisciplinary teams, and this call for tenders is a direct implementation of the commitment made in the action plan.”
“The European Digital Media Observatory will allow fact-checkers and academic researchers, to bring together their efforts and actively collaborate with media organisations and media literacy experts,” the Commission adds.
“The platform will provide media practitioners, teachers and citizens with information and material aimed at increasing awareness, building resilience to online disinformation and supporting media literacy campaigns.”
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Currently Brussels defines disinformation as “verifiably false or misleading information created, presented and disseminated for economic gain or to intentionally deceive the public”.
The UK Government instead uses the definition that it is “inaccurate or misleading content” without the intention to deceive.
Last month the Commission said it had implemented a self-regulatory code of practice against disinformation with the major online platforms.
It has also developed a rapid alert system to coordinate responses to disinformation and share insights between EU countries.
Brexit Party MEP Claire Fox said: “It sets an incredibly dangerous precedent when an institution as unaccountable as the EU is able to dictate truth, particularly when disinformation can come to mean views that threaten the long-term interests of the EU.”
“Although this is a very worrying development, more regulatory control online has been the EU’s direction of travel for a while. Successive crises have shaken their confidence to win the public debate which is why they have resorted to cleverly worded directives that hide their true censorious aims.”