ECA: EU needs to step up its efforts to tame disinformation

Disinformation is a serious and increasing problem across the EU. In 2018, the EU issued an action plan to combat disinformation. This plan was relevant at the time it was first drawn up, but it is incomplete. Its implementation is broadly on track, but it is still being outpaced by emerging threats. This is the conclusion of a special report published by the European Court of Auditors (ECA). The auditors found that more coordination is needed at EU level, and that Member States need to step up their involvement, for instance in the rapid alert system. There is also a need to improve the monitoring and accountability of online platforms, and to include disinformation in a coherent EU media-literacy strategy, a strategy which is currently lacking.

“Any attempt to maliciously and intentionally undermine or manipulate public opinion represents a grave threat to the EU itself. At the same time, fighting disinformation represents a major challenge: the EU needs to avoid infringing upon its fundamental values, such as the freedom of opinion and expression, when it is doing so” said Baudilio Tomé Muguruza, the member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report. “The EU’s action plan against disinformation was relevant when it was drawn up, but it remains incomplete. We recommend that the EU’s response to disinformation should be stepped up, and that its coordination be improved.”

The EU’s action plan against disinformation has triggered positive developments, but it has not lived up to all of its promises, according to the auditors. The plan contained relevant measures – for example, debunking and reducing the visibility of misleading content – but it has not been updated or reviewed since 2018, even though disinformation tactics, actors and technology are constantly evolving. In December 2020, the Commission published the European Democracy Action Plan, which includes anti-disinformation measures, without clarifying exactly how it relates to the 2018 action plan against disinformation. The auditors warn that pursuing similar objectives through different initiatives makes coordination more complex, and increases the risk of inefficiencies.

Read the Special Report of The European Court of Auditors in its entirety here.