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Defending truth in the era of fake news

Europe’s leading media organizations have a duty to curb the spread of disinformation

LENA debate on fake news in Madrid.
LENA debate on fake news in Madrid. EL PAÍS

Fake news is not a new phenomenon, but thanks to the power of modern technology, made-up stories and propaganda disguised as information are circulating like never before. The European Union, understanding the impact this kind of garbage content has on public debate and democracy, has dived into the heated discussion on how to tackle disinformation. The upcoming elections for the European Parliament in 2019 are seen as a litmus test. EU members are concerned that voters will be poisoned by fake news ahead of the elections, as happened during the Brexit vote, French and Italian elections and Catalan independence crisis.

Quality media organizations are the best guarantee to safeguard citizens’ right to be informed

But creating legislation for the entire EU – with corresponding sanctions – that is able to neutralize lies and fight against populist discourse that breeds hate, does not appear to be on the agenda. In the meantime, self-regulation is considered the easiest way to counter hostile propaganda and news stories that are designed to distort the truth.

Worryingly, two out of three Europeans come across one piece of fake news every day, according to EU member data. What’s more, 80% believe that fake news is a threat against democracy.

This pits Europe’s trusted media organizations against an enormous challenge, as was outlined on Tuesday by media bosses from the Leading European Newspaper Alliance (LENA), of which EL PAÍS forms part. It’s not just about presenting a united front against misinformation, it’s also about getting to the bottom of who is behind its production and dissemination. Quality media companies, which use reliable and verified data, prioritize journalistic truth, base their stories on facts and fact-check stories, are the best guarantee to safeguard citizens’ right to be informed.

Stopping anti-European messages from gaining ground requires the cooperation of tech companies such as Google and Facebook. The first, albeit insufficient, step is for tech companies to change their algorithms so that fake news is given a lower ranking and is harder to find online, and quality content is given greater visibility. It is also important to educate people so that they develop a social and critical awareness that is able to see through deceptive arguments.

Adopting these measures from a global perspective, in which all European states are involved, is the only way the EU will be able to successfully fight against the challenges posed by disinformation.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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