A rapid alert system is one of many measures proposed in the EU’s Action Plan against online disinformation. Announced on December 5, the action plan aims to tackle the spread of disinformation which is seen as an evolving threat to democracy within the EU, and is of particular concern in the run-up to the European elections in May 2019.
The alert system will be in effect by March 2019 and would allow the European Commission and EU member states to work with the European Parliament and NATO to quickly raise the alarm on disinformation campaigns in real-time. A swift response to any disinformation about EU matters and policies is regarded as vital to protecting an open and democratic society.
According to the EU’s diplomatic service, the European External Action Service (EEAS), disinformation campaigns by Russia are the largest threat to the EU. The EEAS created the Hybrid Fusion Cell to deal with these evolving threats, dubbed as “hybrid warfare”. The action plan states that these threats need a constant and continuous effort to stop them. The EEAS has also established the Strategic Communication Task Forces, which will work with EU delegations across Europe and with the Commission to tackle the issues of disinformation and to develop response strategies.
In particular, the action plan serves to address the European Council’s call to “protect the Union’s democratic systems and combat disinformation, including in the context of the upcoming European elections”. The plan sets out four main areas of focus. These are to: (i) improve the capabilities of EU institutions to detect, analyse and expose disinformation; (ii) strengthen coordinated joint responses to disinformation; (iii) mobilise the private sector to tackle disinformation; and (iv) raise awareness and improve the resilience of society.
Further, a main pillar of the action plan aims at mobilising the private sector by encouraging online platforms and the online advertising industry to tackle disinformation. As a result, these private organisations have agreed to commit to specific actions under the Code of Practice on Disinformation by the 2019 European Parliament Elections.
Finally, another main pillar of the action plan states that a greater public awareness is needed to help people become more alert to and critical of information they view online. This is to be achieved through independent fact-checkers and research on disinformation. Initiatives such as the Audio-visual Media Service Directive and the Horizon Europe programme aim to help citizens develop higher levels of media literacy.
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