Europe Sets a Global Standard for Countering Disinformation

Today marks the launch of the Strengthened Code of Practice on Disinformation. It’s a first of its kind voluntary initiative to provide a robust European framework to curb the spread of disinformation online, developed and signed by over 30 industry actors, civil society organisations, fact-checkers and other stakeholders. 

Kinzen is not a traditional signatory, but we see ourselves as an organisation born out of the need to support the industry in their fight against misinformation. We believe that by full participation in the Code we will continue to show the value of, and help attract, organisations that may not fit under the ‘traditional’ pillars of the stakeholders. Similar to us in Kinzen, these parties are committed to fighting disinformation through their tools, technical efforts, philanthropic work or other expertise.

Safety by design for safer online conversations

At Kinzen, we see disinformation is a uniquely viral form of online harm. It is an attack on an information ecosystem weakened by emotional overload. That is why you can’t protect the health of online conversations by trying to ban disinformation. You need to focus on the systems which spread the virus. You need to hold technology companies to account for their content recommendation systems and content moderation practices. You need to encourage innovation in online safety. In other words, you need safety by design, not safety by decree.

This Code - alongside the Digital Services Act - will meet this standard by focussing on accountability and transparency, and ultimately the empowerment of the users of online platforms.

Agility fuels innovation

Misinformation is not static and disinformation tactics develop at the speed of light, especially in the face of global events such as the recent invasion of Ukraine by Russia. By following the principles of safety by design the Code focuses the industry’s efforts on mitigating the effects of emerging trends, and adopting innovative measures to address rapidly evolving harms. 

To that end the Code has established a Permanent Task-Force that will drive the creation of crisis response or risk assessment frameworks in a collaborative manner, to which Kinzen will contribute. Finally, it allows for flexibility in line with technological, societal or regulatory developments. This provision helps break the cycle of endless standing solutions from the ground up. Instead, the focus will be on continuous improvement, which we consider to be a much more sensible and effective approach. 

Diversity makes a difference

The Strengthened Code has undoubtedly attracted a broader range of stakeholders. A diverse group of signatories enabled the creation of a framework that goes beyond a narrow understanding of swiftly changing actors’ behaviour or content trends. It underlines the importance of design and application of technology-based solutions and robust structural indicators to facilitate harvesting, analysing, and acting upon cross-platform trends in a more effective manner.

Supporting research and the fact-checking community 

Kinzen already plays an important role in fighting misinformation through our partnerships with technology companies. By signing the Code we rise to the challenges of online disinformation beyond these partnerships. Our main commitments are in the area of empowering the research and fact-checking community. Under the Code we will continue to conduct and share the findings of experts’ research on disinformation trends across Europe and beyond. 

We support the work of fact-checkers, providing open source tools for cross-platform research. For example, we are working with a European fact-checking group to help research climate change disinformation in audio platforms. We will report on such activities to showcase effective cross-border collaboration with relevant organisations. 

Does Strengthened mean better? 

The process of creating this iteration of the Code started nearly a year ago and when announced a number of organisations pointed out the shortcomings of the original instrument. While signatories addressed and arguably closed some of these gaps, areas such as access to data or challenges of non-English moderation may threaten successful implementation. Data sharing is key for collaboration and accountability, but we need to ensure balance between privacy of the users with the right to access data. We need to think globally, but act locally to avoid the pitfalls of focusing on disinformation in English, as pointed out by EU Disinfo labs.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint

After nearly a year of intense negotiations interrupted time and again by the global pandemic, national elections, and the invasion of Ukraine we feel a sense of achievement today but the framework won’t limit the spread of dangerous disinformation online overnight. The launch today is not a finish line, but a starting point of a potentially very impactful journey, which we are excited to embark on with partners from all over Europe. While the Code is largely aspirational for now, we trust that we will see positive effects resulting in a coordinated and more effective response to dangerous misinformation in the coming months. Let’s keep the momentum going!

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