Fake news has become “almost overwhelming,” the European Commission warned as it weighed steps that may help it assess how far the likes of Facebook Inc and Google have stemmed the tide of online misinformation.
The European Union’s executive arm said Monday it was starting a public consultation on fake news, including on what Internet companies, news media and others have done to counter disinformation online. It will also ask what role each of those should play. Officials will seek opinions on how aware people are of fake news and what trust they have in different media.
Regulators are attempting to tackle concerns that false news reports might have sought to influence French and German elections this year as well as votes in Catalonia, the Netherlands and the UK French President Emmanuel Macron earlier this year accused Russia of meddling in the country’s election by putting out fake news.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the commission’s president, has promised to tackle “the challenges which online platforms create for our democracies as regards the spreading of fake information.” The EU will set out a strategy on fake news in spring 2018, it said in an emailed statement.
Academics and representatives of news media, online platforms and other groups will be asked to form an expert panel to advise on who should play what role in tackling fake news.
“The flow of information and misinformation has become almost overwhelming,” said Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s vice-president. “That is why we need to give our citizens the tools to identify fake news, improve trust online, and manage the information they receive.”
The use of social media and fake news to influence votes is being examined across Europe. The UK’s elections regulator is looking at whether Russia tried to use social media to illegally influence the Brexit referendum campaign. Spanish reports have linked fake news on Catalonia with allegations of Russian influence in the Brexit vote.
The EU’s external action service, which handles foreign relations for the bloc, runs a website to counter Russian media disinformation.
“We recognize false news is something Facebook needs to address” in collaboration with others, the social network’s Thomas Myrup Kristensen told a conference in Brussels on Monday. “We are trying to build new products to address it” and the company is working to identify “clickbait” headlines that link to exaggerated information.
“We are increasing enforcement on ads” to identify those with little substance, using artificial intelligence to identify if new pages link to low-quality content that “may not be eligible to be an ad,” he said.
Myrup Kristensen said Facebook wants to be “very careful” on any rules that might force it to delete content, citing concerns over limiting free speech and consumer choice.
Google’s Jon Steinberg said fake news was like unwanted spam emails, “another attempt to game our algorithms” and the company would be failing its users if it didn’t fight low-quality content in its search engine. Changes to Google’s advertising terms aim to “follow the money” and “demonetise hundreds of fake news sites,” he said. — Bloomberg
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