The new Code aims to achieve the objectives of the Commission’s Guidance presented in May 2021, by setting a broader range of commitments and measures to counter online disinformation.
The 2022 Code of Practice is the result of the work carried out by the signatories. It is for the signatories to decide which commitments they sign up to and it is their responsibility to ensure the effectiveness of their commitments’ implementation. The Code is not endorsed by the Commission, while the Commission set out its expectations in the Guidance and considers that, as a whole, the Code fulfils these expectations.
Signatories committed to take action in several domains, such as; demonetising the dissemination of disinformation; ensuring the transparency of political advertising; empowering users; enhancing the cooperation with fact-checkers; and providing researchers with better access to data.
Recognising the importance to make the Code future-proof, signatories agreed to establish a framework for further collaboration through a permanent Task-force. The Code also comes with a strengthened monitoring framework based on qualitative reporting elements and service-level indicators measuring the effectiveness of its implementation. Signatories will set up a Transparency Centre, providing a clear overview to the public of the policies they put in place to implement their commitments, and will update it regularly with the relevant data.
The Strengthened Code
The Code of Practice on Disinformation is a first-of-its kind tool through which relevant players in the industry agreed - for the first time in 2018 - on self-regulatory standards to fight disinformation.
Its revision process was launched in June 2021 and, after the signature and presentation of the revised Code on 16 June 2022, the new Code will become part of a broader regulatory framework, in combination with the legislation on Transparency and Targeting of Political Advertising and the Digital Services Act. For signatories that are Very Large Online Platforms, the Code aims to become a mitigation measure and a Code of Conduct recognised under the co-regulatory framework of the DSA.
The strengthened Code of Practice contains 44 commitments and 128 specific measures, in the following areas.
Demonetisation: cutting financial incentives for purveyors of disinformation
The strengthened Code aims to ensure that purveyors of disinformation do not benefit from advertising revenues. Signatories commit to stronger measures avoiding the placement of advertising next to disinformation, as well as the dissemination of advertising containing disinformation. The Code also sets up a more effective cooperation among the players of the advertising sector, allowing stronger joint action.
Transparency of political advertising
Recognising the importance of political advertising in shaping public life, the strengthened Code commits signatories to put in place stronger transparency measures, allowing users to easily recognise political ads by providing more efficient labelling, committing to reveal the sponsor, ad spend and display period. Moreover, signatories commit to putting in place efficient and searchable ad libraries for political advertising.
Ensuring the integrity of services
The Code will strengthen the measures to reduce manipulative behaviour used to spread disinformation (e.g. fake accounts, bot-driven amplification, impersonation, malicious deep fakes), and establishes a stronger cooperation among signatories to fight the challenges related to such techniques. A cross-service understanding of unpermitted manipulative behaviours and practices to spread disinformation will be agreed among signatories. They will be also required to periodically review the list of tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) employed by malicious actors, and will implement clear policies, covering the range of behaviours and practices identified.
Users will be better protected from disinformation through enhanced tools to recognise, understand and flag disinformation, to access authoritative sources, and through media literacy initiatives. In particular, the Code will ensure that safe design practices are put in place to limit the spread of disinformation and ensure more transparency of their recommender systems, adapting them to limit the propagation of disinformation.
The Code foresees that online platforms provide better support to research on disinformation. Researchers will have a better and wider access to platforms’ data. This means ensuring automated access to non-personal, anonymised, aggregated or manifestly made public data, and working towards putting in place a governance structure to simplify access to data requiring additional scrutiny.
Empowering the fact-checking community
The new Code will extend fact-checking coverage across all EU Member States and languages and ensure that platforms will make a more consistent use of fact-checking on their services. Moreover, the Code works towards ensuring fair financial contributions for fact-checkers' work and better access to fact-checkers to information facilitating their daily work.
Transparency centre and Task-force
The Transparency Centre, accessible to all citizens, will allow for an easy overview of the implementation of the Code’s measures, providing transparency and regular updates of relevant data. The permanent Task-force will keep the Code future-proof and fit-for-purpose, by establishing a forum – inter alia - to review and adapt the commitments in view of technological, societal, market and legislative developments. The Task-force is composed of representatives of signatories, the European Regulators' Group for Audiovisual Media Services, the European Digital Media Observatory and the European External Action Service, and is chaired by the Commission.
Strengthened Monitoring framework
The Code comes with a strong monitoring framework, including Service Level Indicators to measure the Code’s implementation throughout the EU and at the Member State level. By the beginning of 2023, signatories will provide to the Commission the first baseline reports on their implementation of the Code. Subsequently, Very Large Online Platforms, as defined in the Digital Services Act (DSA), will report every six-months while other Signatories will report on a yearly basis. The strengthened Code also contains a clear commitment to work towards establishing structural indicators, allowing to measure the overall impact of the Code on Disinformation.
The Road to the Strengthened Code
The 2018 Code of Practice on Disinformation brought together for the first time worldwide industry players to commit to counter disinformation. At the core of the EU strategy against disinformation, the Code has proven to be an effective tool to limit the spread of online disinformation, including during electoral periods and to quickly respond to crises, such as the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
Following the Commission's Assessment of its first period of implementation, the Commission published in May 2021 detailed Guidance to address the shortcomings of the 2018 Code, proposing solutions to make it more effective. The signatories of the 2018 Code, joined by a broad range of prospective signatories, engaged in the revision process that led to the Strengthened Code presented to the Commission on 16th of June 2022.
Signatories will have six months to implement the commitments and measures to which they have signed up.
Together with the European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services (ERGA) and the European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO), the Commission will regularly assess the progress made in the implementation of the Code, based on the granular qualitative and quantitative reporting expected from signatories.
The established Task Force, which will meet as necessary and at least every six months, will monitor and adapt the commitments in view of technological, societal, market and legislative developments.