EU Seeks to Punish Online Lies in Disinformation Crackdown

The European Union is weighing up how to sanction the perpetrators of online disinformation amid suspicions of Chinese and Russian involvement in lies spewed out on internet platforms about Covid-19.

As part of its Democracy Action Plan published Thursday, the European Commission said it would explore how to “impose costs on the perpetrators” of harmful disinformation campaigns in the EU. Such campaigns involve the spreading of falsehoods but also other manipulative tactics such as fake profiles to artificially amplify narratives, the EU said.

In particular, the EU said it was considering measures such as “publicly identifying commonly used techniques to render them operationally unusable” or imposing sanctions following repeated offences.

The plans come after a report by the EU’s foreign service department in May showed how Russian and Chinese media reports sought to create doubts around China’s role in the Covid-19 outbreak. Russians have also been accused of meddling in the 2016 Brexit vote.

The new measures would complement the EU’s cyber-sanctions system, which was used for the first time this July when the EU targeted individuals and entities from Russia, China and North Korea over their involvement in cyberattacks like the 2017 Wannacry ransomware assault.

To curb the spread of disinformation, the EU says it will also update a 2018 voluntary code of conduct signed with tech companies, such as Twitter Inc., Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, which required them to tackle fake accounts and the malicious use of bots. Among other new obligations, the EU wants to require the companies to limit false or misleading issue-based ads on their platforms.

In addition, the commission said it plans to propose new legislation around the transparency of political advertising next year.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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