How well are disinformation code signatories living up to their promises?

It’s already been over two years since the day when the self-regulatory Code of Practice on Disinformation was signed by representatives of online platforms, leading social networks, advertisers and advertising industry in order to combat the spread of online disinformation and fake news. In the code of practice, signatories promised to implement a wide range of commitments, from transparency in political advertising, through the closure of fake accounts and demonetization of purveyors of disinformation, to empowering consumers and research community.

As far as media literacy is concerned, the Code states, inter alia, that: Signatories commit to partner with civil society, governments, educational institutions, and other stakeholders to support efforts aimed at improving critical thinking and digital media literacy.

But are the signatories keeping their promise?

The Code provides for a review of its effectiveness. The platforms were to report on a monthly basis on their actions undertaken to comply with their commitments as well as to provide the European Commission with annual self-assessment reports. From the other side the European Commission with the assistance of national audiovisual regulators – the ERGA members – has carried out a monitoring of the implementation of the commitments by Facebook, Google and Twitter.

The task was not easy. In its Report on disinformation: Assessment of the implementation of the Code of Practice, published in April 2020, ERGA highlighted several shortcomings in the fulfilment of the Code’s provisions.

Even though in several countries the Code’s signatories have entered into various partnerships with media companies and educational organisations to plan and execute media literacy campaigns, due to the problems with access to data, it was very difficult or sometimes impossible to evaluate their efficiency. At the same time, these campaigns involve only a tiny fraction of the total population (mainly journalists, politicians and school teachers), usually concentrated in the main cities.

Drawing on the conclusions of the report, interviewing media literacy experts, following the reports on activities undertaken by the Code signatories as well as examples of efficient and good media literacy campaigns suggested by ERGA members, the Italian-Polish-Hungarian team working within the ERGA Subgroup on Disinformation prepared a report on Improving Media Literacy Campaigns on Disinformation, published in January 2021, and formulated a set of Recommendations for the improvement of the campaigns on disinformation carried out in compliance with the provisions of the Code of Practice on Disinformation.

In order to achieve satisfying results in combatting disinformation, this report recommends that the Code’s signatories should:

  1. Organise or support campaigns to inform and raise awareness among consumers in all the countries where they are providing their services and not in just few of them;
  2. Improve their cooperation/partnership with organisations like press bodies, education organisations, academies, consumers’ associations, drawing upon their experience and expertise in order to reach the greatest possible number of people;
  3. Take steps to cooperate with governments, regulatory authorities and relevant state institutions who deal with media literacy in order to create a systemic approach to disinformation;
  4. Choose carefully the “ambassadors” of the ML campaigns, selecting them based on transparent conditions amongst well-known new media actors (bloggers, influencers), from different age or target groups and from different parts of the country;
  5. Extend the penetration of the campaigns so that a bigger part of the population is reached;
  6. Plan Media Literacy campaigns on disinformation in a way that might serve as an information gateway to open educational resources;
  7. Put more stress on correct information – educate how to use trustworthy sources;
  8. Follow direct and well-proven ideas;
  9. Inform periodically the European Commission, the NRAs and the users about ML campaigns planned or executed, so that they may be able to find them more easily;
  10. Provide disaggregated data for each country, thus allowing the NRAs to evaluate the impact of the campaigns.

The Report also notes that the newly established European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO) might play an important role for the roll-out of the last two recommendations as it intends to deploy a platform to support the work of a multidisciplinary community with expertise in the field of online disinformation and create, within this platform, a repository of all media literacy campaigns concerning disinformation planned and executed by the Code’s signatories in the EU Member States, which might be a valuable basis for future monitoring activities.


Maria Borkowska, National Broadcasting Council, (KRRIT), Poland & Rosa Cavallaro, Italian Communications Regulatory Authority (AGCOM), Italy