Working Towards a Positive Change by Fighting Negativity with Quality

How the Digital Communications Workgroup on the Digital and Communications Affairs Council is Tackling Fake News

By Claudia Scandol

The main focus of one of the workgroups at this year’s Young European Council in the Digital and Communications Affairs Council was fake news and digital communications. This topic has been extremely salient of late in policy making circles due to the potential impact it has on the wider European populace and our delegates were excited to investigate the policy options and current actions. During a meeting with the carefully selected council advisers Mr. Joran Frik, Mr. Joe McNamee and Ms. Iva Tasheva, the delegates were able to get valuable feedback about their policies thus far, discuss further ideas and ask questions to experienced experts in the field.

The workgroup developed a policy draft in order to counter fake news where they focus on rewarding legitimate news sources as opposed to punishing and banning fake news sources. Team representative Catarina Burstoff was presenting the policy and emphasised one of the most important factors in this matter, being the people’s perception of fake news as real. The workgroup, led by Magdalena Surowiec from Poland, proposed a certificate based system whereby honourable journalists are given a sort of rating to indicate the reliability of their news sources. They proposed that the ratings should be given by an EU level expert group with as much independence as possible, and national and local scholars in order to overcome language barriers in smaller member states. The workgroup also suggested the utilisation of celebrities and media personalities in an influence campaign due their exposure and following to combat questionable sources.

When these proposals were presented to the expert advisers, they had many compliments and suggestions to give to the delegates which have helped to improve and streamline their work. Mr. Joe McNamee emphasised two of the major factors that influence the perpetuation of fake news – the prominence of “clicks” on bad news as opposed to good news and the speed at which fake news spreads and is believed by people.  Mr. Joran Frik added to McNamee’s thoughts on the propensity of and dissemination of negative and inflammatory headlines. On the other hand, Ms. Iva Tasheva focused her comments on the importance of education of the populace. The special advisers were also able to give some valuable criticism, which for delegate Antonio Božić from Croatia only helped to increase the validity and quality of their work. He sees their policy as not only realistic, but also feasible if they can take the adviser’s considerations into account.

Mr. Božić also shared the disagreements and challenges that his team faced when developing their policy, such as discussions on how to best address the problem (through a punishment of fake news sources versus promotion of legitimate sources) and how to best implement their grading system – how is it granted? Who is in charge? Ms. Tasheva also took this chance to advise caution on certificates as a policy solution – who polices the police? The delegates need to address this in order to create trust in the public, something which is vital to the issue of fake news. They decided to focus on promoting positive new sources as opposed to attempting to blacklist and ban fake news sources, as they are too easy to replicate. Instead, they want to public to engage with trustworthy and credible sources.

The team presented their final communiqué with the rest of the Digital and Communications Affairs Council on Thursday morning.