In January 2018, the European Commission created High Level Group (HLEG) of experts "to advise on policy initiatives to counter fake news and disinformation spread online". The multidisciplinary group consisted of 39 members and was chaired by Prof. Dr. Madeleine de Cock Buning.
The report presented by the HLEG affirms that disinformation is a phenomenon that goes beyond the term "fake news", which was used misleadingly by different actors "to dismiss coverage that is simply found disagreeable." As defined in the report, disinformation "includes all forms of false, inaccurate, or misleading information designed, presented and promoted to intentionally cause public harm or for profit."
The HLEG recommends a multi-dimensional approach to the problem of disinformation, consisting of five pillars:
- enhance transparency of online news,
- promote media and information literacy to counter disinformation
- develop tools for empowering users and journalists to tackle disinformation
- safeguard the diversity and sustainability of the European news media ecosystem, and
- promote continued research on the impact of disinformation in Europe.
Each of these pillars are further developed in the report. The HLEG also developed a short-medium term recommendation that includes "a self-regulatory approach based on a clearly defined multi-stakeholder engagement process", in order to enable all relevant stakeholders to commit to a Code of Practices. The HLEG formulated 10 key principles to be enshrined in this code.
These principles include:
1. Platforms should adapt their advertising policies, including adhering to “follow-the-money” principle, and should avoid providing incentives that leads to disinformation, and discourage the dissemination and amplification of disinformation for profit. These policies must be based on clear, transparent, and non-discriminatory criteria;
2. Platforms should ensure transparency and public accountability with regard to the processing of users’ data for advertisement placements, with due respect to privacy, freedom of expression and media pluralism;
3. Platforms should ensure that sponsored content, including political advertising, is appropriately distinguished from other content;
4. Platforms should take the necessary measures to enable privacy-compliant access to data for fact-checking and research activities;
5. Platforms should make available to their users advanced settings and controls to empower them to customise their online experience;
6. Platforms should, in cooperation with public and private European news outlets, where appropriate take effective measures to improve the visibility of reliable, trustworthy news and facilitate users’ access to it;
7. Where appropriate, trending news items should, if technically feasible, be accompanied by related news suggestions;
8. Platforms should, where appropriate, provide user-friendly tools to enable users to link up with trusted fact-checking sources and allow users to exercise their right to reply;
9. Platforms that apply flagging and trust systems that rely on users should design safeguards against their abuse by users;
10. Platforms should cooperate by i.a. providing relevant data on the functioning of their services including data for independent investigation by academic researchers and general information on algorithms in order to find a common approach to address the dissemination and amplification of disinformation.
The HLEG also recommended:
- the support to the development of a network of independent European Centres for (academic) research on disinformation
- the creation of an autonomous and independent Centre of Excellence, with the goal of managing "the infrastructure necessary to enable an effective networking of such national research centres and to ensure a wide dissemination of their independent research outcomes".
- the adoption of a set of longer-term measures by the European Commission, Member States, Civil Society organizations, platforms, and news media organizations.