Policy responses to the fake news phenomenon

"Never let truth get in the way of a good story" said Mark Twain in a century where digital devices existed only in the realm of science fiction. More recently, when dealing with the ever-increasing phenomenon of fake news, European policy-makers have drawn on another literary reference: "No one wants a Ministry of Truth", stated MEP Marietje Schaake referencing George Orwell's futuristic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. This analogy has been further used by Vice-President Andrus Ansip who also explained that the European Commission does not seek for a Ministry of Truth either.

As is usually the case when it comes to public affairs, the concept of fake news reached public consciousness following a key event; specifically, the US presidential election campaign in the final three months of last year. While most of the discussions around fake news remain in the political sphere, misinformation of all sorts targets – and is further disseminated by – end-users daily, from youth through to adults.

In an effort to counter misinformation, the European institutions have initiated a series of actions to foster critical thinking and to equip European citizens with the necessary skills and tools to identify fake news.

According to the European Parliament Think Tank, fake news represents fabricated news stories with the deliberate aim of fooling readers, and has become an increasingly visible global phenomenon. In response, in April 2017, the Think Tank published a set of guidelines to help EU citizens spot when news is fake:

  • Check the media outlet.
  • Check the author.
  • Check the references.
  • Think before you share.
  • Join the myth-busters.

In addition to this set of guidelines, the European Parliament has also published a strategic briefing on how this global phenomenon can tailor disinformation in today's post-truth era. According to this publication, "post-truth" was defined as Oxford Dictionaries' word of the year 2016 –as "relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief."

Additionally, the European Commission has recently supported research at the University of Oxford that will receive top-up funding to create an online tool to assess suspicious social media accounts and counter fake news.

Undoubtedly, the discussions and initiatives at policy level to combat fake news will continue on.

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