Ref. Ares(2017)2916818 - 12/06/2017
Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology
FOR THE ATTENTION OF THE MEMBERS OF THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION
Subject: Fake news
Over recent months, there has been intense interest concerning the spread of fake news
online, not least in the context of upcoming elections. The term 'fake news' was coined to
describe deliberately constructed lies, in the form of news articles, meant to mislead the
public, or to generate online ad revenue.
While misinformation has always been part of the media landscape and public discourse,
there is a new concern that social media platforms have enabled easier spreading of such
misinformation. A range of commentators argue that such fake news stories have the
ability to weaken the quality of democratic deliberation in what some call a "post-truth"
society. In December 2016, President Juncker called upon online platforms to do more to
tackle such misinformation.
The landscape of fake news
The landscape of fake news is variegated, with no clear boundaries between different
types of fake news and misinformation. Content such as state propaganda, satire,
rumours, or tabloid-style reporting or other forms of legal speech all have bearing on fake
A number of new drivers have emerged that can amplify the impact of fake news in the
digital society. For instance, social media is set to overtake TV as the major news source
for many Europeans in the coming years, and has already done so for younger population
segments. In particular for children, this issue has been flagged as an emerging issue in
the context of child online safety by the EU-funded Safer Internet Centres. Fake new
stories on social media also often lack any surrounding context that help interpret them,
unlike for instance established newspapers, whose editorial line is generally well-known.
They can propagate very fast thanks to network effects.
However, some experts question the exposure of people to fake news and the influence
such news has on them. The real issue, some say, is the lack of trust citizens have in
(real) news and the fact that in some cases they do not accept that news from traditional
media are much more trustworthy than news delivered through social networks. This is
Commission européenne/Europese Commissie, 1049 Bruxelles/Brussel, BELGIQUE/BELGIË - Tel. +32 22991111
The following sections touch upon possible response options against this background.
Policy responses in Member States and by Online Platforms
Several Member States are considering policy responses to this phenomenon. The
German Justice Ministry is reported by the media to be working on legal proposals for a
dedicated centre where fake news can be flagged, coupled even with potential fines for
non-removal by platforms such as Facebook. In Italy, the head of the competition
authority has called for an EU-wide approach and the President of the Italian Chamber of
Deputies is supporting work on real time social media observatory. The French Senate is
considering an Internet Ombudsman type construction, although not limited specifically
to the issue of fake news. In addition, the Czech government is setting up a specialist
“anti-fake news” unit to counter alleged Russian interference ahead of their upcoming
elections, in collaboration with the Eastern Neighbourhood Strategic Communication
Task Force under High Representative Mogherini.
Social media platforms – notably Google and Facebook – have publicly declared their
intention to limit the spread of fake news, and have announced a series of voluntary
These voluntary measures are currently focused on:
1Edelman Trust Barometer 2017
- depriving fake news websites of online advertising revenue ("follow-the-
money"). One of the motives behind the proliferation of fake news in the US
elections was to provide ad income by directing web traffic to fake news
websites. Such traffic forms the basis for calculation of advertising revenue. If
this can be stopped, the interest in developing fake news decreases substantially.
- flagging mechanisms of fake-news (i.e., users or trusted organisations flagging
such content to the platform), including by working with independent, trusted
third-party fact checkers. Facebook has already started cooperating with
organisations that adhere to the International Fact-Checking Network fact-
checkers’ code of principles2;
- experiments with warnings and labels aimed at the platforms' users, to highlight
disputed content to users but without stopping users from accessing fake news or
sharing it after seeing a warning.
What the EU is already doing
The EU already has established policies on Media Freedom and Media Pluralism, based
on Art 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. These include addressing violations of
media freedom and pluralism within the EU competences, facilitating independent
monitoring and practical solutions to address media freedom violations, and promotion of
media freedom in enlargement policy and external action.
An important element of these policies is to strengthen the general ability of citizens for
independent critical scrutiny of media information, especially when shared online.
Therefore, in the area of media literacy, the European Commission has been facilitating
the visibility and exchange of media literacy good practices from Member States and
stakeholders. In 2017 the Commission – further to an initiative of the Parliament - will
also implement two pilot projects on "Media literacy for all". Media literacy is also an
element in other EU policies, such as the review of key competences in formal education,
youth policy, fight against radicalisation and fostering citizen's participation in civic and
political life. The Commission is also funding a pan-European network of Safer Internet
Centres that promote media literacy, critical thinking and awareness raising to protect
and empower young users online, as part of the wider Better Internet for Kids strategy.
The Commission is also currently brokering an additional self-regulatory initiative, the
Alliance to better protect minors online which will scale up awareness raising on online
safety including the promotion of children's access to diversified online content,
opinions, information and knowledge.
As part of the conclusions of the 2016 Annual Colloquium on Fundamental Rights
which focused on media pluralism and democracy3, the European Commission
committed to continue a dialogue on media literacy with digital intermediaries aiming to
identify initiatives and programmes to provide citizens with knowledge and
understanding of the functioning of social media.
The new publisher's right, proposed in the context of the copyright reform, is also
relevant in this context, as it aims to strengthen quality journalism, and thus contribute to
the sustainability of a pluralistic media landscape and traditional media companies.
Concerning state-orchestrated disinformation, the External Action Service set up a
dedicated Task Force to address Russia's ongoing disinformation campaigns, following a
request from the European Council in March 2015.Their objective is to include effective
communication and promotion of EU policies towards the Eastern Neighbourhood;
strengthening the overall media environment in the Eastern Neighbourhood and in EU
Member States, including support for media freedom and strengthening independent
media; and improved EU capacity to forecast, address and respond to disinformation
activities by external actors.
Moreover, EU research programmes have featured relevant projects since 2011 under
FP7, continuing in the current Horizon 2020 programme. Several projects seek to
develop tools which assist with the assessment of content integrity, context, meaning
origination and propagations paths, and contributor reputation, thereby helping
journalists to assess the veracity of incoming, raw news items.
In line with EU values, any policy response must safeguard free speech online and
defend the free press, and avoid either government or private forms of censorship or
'Ministries of Truth'.
Concerning the illustrative categories of fake news identified above, specific responses
could include the following:
3 http://ec.europa.eu/newsroom/just/item-detail.cfm?item id=31198
1. Do you agree with the above analysis and that the Commission should be active in the
ways suggested to support efforts to counter fake news?
2. In particular, would you agree with
3. Should the Commission do more to counter fake news about EU matters?