Věra Jourová’s address for Gong: The European Union is responding to the challenge of disinformation and digital rights violations

At Gong’s international expert conference “European Perspectives: The Impact of Disinformation on the Health of Democracy and the Digital Environment“, which took place on May 19 at 10 a.m., the opening speech was given by Věra Jourová, Vice President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Values and Transparency.

Addressing the participants and panelists of the conference via video message, Věra Jourová emphasized the efforts of the European Union in the fight against disinformation and strengthening the digital rights of European citizens, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

Watch Věra Jourova‘s full speech below, and read the transcript of the speech:

The digital revolution has brought new opportunities for our democracies, but also, new threats. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this trend, and made the challenges more acute. The Russian invasion of Ukraine highlighted once more the need for prompt actions to strenghten the resilliance of our democracies, and address vulnerabilities.

The European Union response to these important challenges is taking place in the framework of the European Democracy Action Plan. The Action plan includes measures to strengthen media freedoms and pluralism, alongside measures targeted to fight disinformation and to ensure free and fair elections. And we are responding to the challenge in the European way, with a focus on collaboration and transparency, and in full respect of our fundamental rights and freedoms.

We deliver on this plan. Last September, the Commission presented recommendations to the member states to improve the safety of journalists. Most recently, we adopted a package to address strategic lawsuits against journalists, so-called SLAPPs. And it is essential that journalists and human rights defenders are afforded the necessary space to counter disinformation and other manipulative interference in the democratic debate.

Moreso, we are working on a new proposal, the Media Freedom Act, to protect the pluralism and the independence of the media. The media should be able to operate without pressure, whether public or private. The European democracy action plan complements a set of regulations that end the Wild West in the internet, and that brings back basic responsibility and accountability in the online space, especially to the large tech companies.

With the Digital Services Act, we have fundamental rules on the way intermediaries participate in the distribution of online content. We also need clear rules for political campaigns, because as they move increasingly online, we cannot allow political debate to become the unchecked race of dirty methods. The commission’s proposal for the regulation on the transparency of political advertising provides for a highest standard for transparency of political advertising in the EU, and limits the use of opaque, targeting, and amplification methods of such messages.

But we also believe we cannot, and should not, regulate everything. This is particularly true when it comes to the fight against disinformation, because we have to be very careful not to undermine freedom of speech. We do not want to create a Ministry of Truth. At the same time, we cannot stay idle as disinformation poses a substantial and ongoing threat to democracy. It can be used to divide the public, to manipulate or attack the legitimacy of democratic institutions.

The war in Ukraine, and the information manipulation linked to it, is a recent example of the big threat. And it is not the only one – we have also seen it during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dangerous messages, misleading health care information, and organized propaganda campaigns, have also been used to sow division, instil fear, exploit citizens, and even put their lives at risk.

We will not delete our way out of the problem. A centerpiece of our efforts to fight disinformation has been the self-regulatory code of practice on disinformation – a first of its kind effort worldwide, bringing together industry to commit to voluntary standards to counter disinformation, and risks stemming from its dissemination. We are now working to overhaul the code and add new players to it. The new code will include a much more detailed set of commitments for online platforms to fight online disinformation, and a stricter monitoring system.

Together, the Digital Service Act and the new Code will establish a co-regulatory framework for addressing systemic risks to democracy, that information manipulation and disinformation on platform services present. This is an important period in the Union’s efforts to shape how we make our democracies resilient, and adapt our societies to the digital age. It is also a matter of trust for citizens in the digital transition.

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