European Commission and the initiative for the detection of false news in social networks. Deceptive news: Updates from the social and legal perspective, technical and legal solutions

Autor:María Luján López Dallara
Cargo:Attorney in Law, Spain

In the Globalization Era, media industry professionals must also be updated to the transition to a changing social context. As we are in a Hyper-connected World, the volatility of public opinion grows, and information sources can be easily biased. A variety of competing sectoral, economic, political interests have gained access to markets through audiovisual means. In turn, distribution... (ver resumen completo)

Introduction Social Media and the occurrence of deceptive information as a new phenomenon with no borders

In the Globalization Era, legal professionals, media owners and journalists must also be updated to the transition from a static to a changing social context. As we are in a Hyper-connected World, the volatility of public opinion grows, and information sources can be easily biased. A variety of competing sectoral, economic, political interests have gained access to markets through audiovisual means. In turn, distribution channels of informative messages are accelerating, as a result of the intervention of new technologies, which cross-pollinate most part of the industry sectors. Among those industries, that of traditional and social media are not exempted of causality linkages between ICT and the generation of delusional content in the most renowned social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and more). Such a fast-paced environment makes the material capacity for news verification and its authenticity evaporate. Thus, the process for establishing whether the information is truthful, or its source is reputable becomes difficult for users and consumers. This article is attempting to offer an overview of the European social, demographic and legal perspectives by means of a mobilizing vision of social networks for gaining a common understanding of the ecosystem surrounding the problem. At the same time it invites the reader to take an attentive glance at this content, to be actively engaging those members of the target community (for instance legal experts, media stakeholders, ICT experts and journalists having in mind the need of starting to work in a holistic manner) with the aim of opening new avenues to overcome undesirable effects and potential damages that could be inflicted not only by biasing the public opinion in vibrant democracies, but also the human rights to privacy, personal reputation as well as severely derive in material losses.

Deceptive information (vulgarly called “Fake-news”) is a phenomenon conceived as a pseudo-journalistic product spread through news portals, written press, radio, television and social networks whose goal is deliberate launching content on the internet with the objective of causing misinformation. Since 2016 such a phenomenon became the object of attention of politicians, citizens and academics, particularly in the United States, during the presidential elections. So much valuable the issue became that the problem gained the attention of the rest of the World. Statistics are very illustrative regarding the inflation in the number of publications focusing on the matter as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1.Publications on Fake-news per year. Source Scopus.

As it can be seen, after the Donald Trump’s elections the phenomenon started to be the object of attention of scientists in several countries and increased from 2016 to 2017 in a significant amount.

Figure 2. Publications by Territory/country

Both Figures 1 and 2 are clearly depicting the relevance of the effects that false information in social networks take for social, ICT and legal scientists all across one of the most reputable rankings of journals coming from all disciplines. Simple boolean searches retrieved from the Scopus tool indicate that the particulars of such spreading are of the highest concern. It is an indicator of the fact that, the study of delusional effects of spreading false information in social media, is as incremental as the needs of combating the lack of solutions for preventing unsupervised dissemination on the internet with the objective of misguiding the public opinion or defamation as such.

The EU initiative for preventing dissemination of Fake-News and online Disinformation

The European Institutions do not remain silent when facing that sort of events, and it seems tha the main reason for that relies upon needs for control of political opinions and vote intention, but the initiative is trying to go beyond one single aspect: In view of the undesired effects caused by misinformation in Social Media, the High-Level group on Fake-News and online disinformation is already addressing the problem by providing the EU Commission with advice on scoping the matter of fake-news, also by defining the roles and liabilities of relevant stakeholders at the international dimension. The High-Level Group on Fake-news will also be formulating recommendations at the initial phase of the EU legislative procedure, whereas public consultation will take also a paramount role.

Figure 3: Source Statista 19/03/2018.

That depiction shows the level of trust that users have in news accuracy, as it will be displayed in the following paragraphs and infographics of this work, Eurobarometer 464-March 2018 goes beyond, and it makes a difference, finding which type of media is receiving the highest level of trust on the part of the European public.

Publications about Charlie Hebdo, Donald Trump’s election or the Catalonian Referendum, are good examples of this kind of fictional news as well as other recent facts categorised as false news caused by several reasons such as political influence and monetisation purposes. That was the case in the last US elections, which Donald Trump won. The dissemination through social networks of false news that intentionally misleads readers has become a growing problem for European democracies, according to the alarming diagnosis made by the European Commission. Deceptive news has already played a prominent role in the Brexit referendum or the French presidential elections and has regained prominence in the Catalan crisis. Brussels has decided to declare itself against disinformation on the Internet. The phenomenon needs a new approach on the part of Governments and stakeholders worldwide, imposing new legal obligations on digital platforms such as Facebook or Twitter and the media across the EU.

Various studies, including those cited at the bibliographic paragraph of this essay, conclude that in the current social context, the interaction of citizens with social networks unequivocally causes undesired effects. This scenario calls for the creation of participatory forums and EU initiatives, integrated by media professionals, businessmen, academics, users, consumers and other social and political actors. Careful attention must be paid to observe the causes of such manifestation to reverse the damaging effects of the creation of untruthful information, within the public and private communication channels that converge in the Social Media community. The present work aims the objective of establishing the foundations for giving birth to an environment for legal research of journalists and other stakeholders, to address the problem and gaining control of these dysfunctional social behaviours.

As the EU High-Level Group on Fake News appoints such actions would also allow the media ecosystem to create consensus in the community for conceptualisation, research, and establishment of preventive measures to avoid adverse effects of fake news on public opinion. Not to mention the impact of these acts on the reputation of public and private figures, taking into account the delicate balance that must prevail between the right to freedom of expression and privacy.

For achieving a European dimension at the core of the EU initiatives in reaching that balance, it is necessary to promote the creation of hubs, observatories for research and educational purposes targeting not only consumers, but also journalists that are in the responsibility of examining content prior to publication and publishing those considered factually relevant. Once the environment for common consensus would be constructed, it will be possible to implement best practices among legal professional, media owners, ICT experts and journalists, as well as qualitative and quantitative analysis and research methods. Not only the Environment for observation of biased information must reunite European media professionals for they to become aware of the problem. In such vein they also can gain abilities to implement practical solutions once developed. It also will be the centerpiece for creating new technological innovations and improving the existing ones. Performing several actions will also be possible in order to apply sophisticated fake-news analysis and detection techniques already created, such as stance detection, machine learning, big data and data science, natural language processing, deception detection, linguistic/semantic approaches, network approach must be re-examined at the core of the appropriate environment. All with the purpose of generating informatic and legal solutions concerning real-time detection of false information in social media in the so-called dynamic that will consist of an interactive ambience for holistic experimental purposes. It has been proven that the attempt of favouring those framing joint actions has taken place by means of EU programmes and financial...

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