This ambitious co-regulatory text negotiated between the European Commission, platforms and civil society organizations contains many of the recommendations issued in the Forum’s report How to end infodemics and in the text of the International Partnership on Information and Democracy. Platforms have until June 14 to commit to as many of these provisions as possible.
Promotion of reliable information, duty of transparency, protection of users’ privacy… Launched in 2021, the negotiations of the ‘Strengthened Code of Practice on Disinformation’, under the guidance of the European Commission, have just resulted in the adoption of strong measures that take over a substantial part of the recommendations developed by the working groups of the Forum on Information and Democracy. At least 60 recommendations have been enacted in this text, which is now awaiting the signature of relevant stakeholders to be effective.
The Code will introduce structural measures to promote reliable information online. They include setting up new content flagging systems and fact-checking tools, improving platform design to reduce the virality of misinformation, and promoting the reliability of information through standards such as the Journalism Trust Initiative (JTI) certification. In addition, the text provides transparency and accountability obligations regarding advertising, content moderation and the management of account holder’s data. All of these provisions were included, among others, in the report of the Forum’s working group on infodemics co-chaired by Maria Ressa, journalist and 2021 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and Marietje Schaake, International Policy director of the Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Center.
The adoption of this co-regulatory text, which will be made public on June 16, is a major step towards “a new global governance structure for digital technology” that will “ensure the effective and coordinated democratic oversight of platforms” as requested by the Forum’s working group. The signatories of the Code will indeed have to collaborate with the European authorities within a “Permanent Task Force” chaired by the Commission concerning the application of the Code and their management of disinformation. In particular, large platforms will be audited by independent bodies to assess whether they respect their commitments.
A significant advancement for the right to information
“The outcome of the negotiations of the ‘Strengthened Code of Practice on Disinformation’ marks a historic step for the right to information in the digital space, says Christophe Deloire, Chair of the Forum on Information and Democracy. Less than two years after the publication of our recommendations to end infodemics, we can only be pleased to see them formulated in this European text, a first of its kind at the international level. It is now up to the platforms to fulfill its ambitions and endorse a maximum of the commitments established under this Code.”
While platforms are supposed to subscribe to every commitment relevant to their services, they can nevertheless justify their refusal to sign some of them to the European Commission. The Code as such does not have the force of law, but compliance with the commitments accepted by each platform will be taken into account when assessing the duty of care imposed on them by the Digital Services Act (DSA) with regard to the impact of their activities on the public space.
The results obtained during the negotiations constitutes a significant advancement towards the implementation of the principles of transparency, responsibility and neutrality of digital platforms, which are at the core of the International Partnership on Information and Democracy endorsed by 45 States, including 24 members of the European Union.