EU Could Kill Free Speech in Fight Against Fake News

'Tackling disinformation online' is the title of the EC’s new report on fake news. The intentions are good, but the outcome could severely hurt free speech in Europe. Read our quick analysis.

The report by the European Commissions High Level Working Group suggests that legal regulation is not the answer to fake news. Liberties supports this position because new laws risk threatening free speech.

However, the report suggests that the solution is self-regulation and codes of conduct for online companies. Liberties is of the opinion that these soft instruments are a serious threat to civil liberties and democracy.

Putting commercial enterprises in charge of online content and especially public debate puts free speech and freedom of information at serious risk. For democracy to function properly, society needs open and vivid public debate.

Having businesses make decisions about content is not only a heavy burden on the commercial sector, but it is also highly non-transparent, which is an entirely inappropriate way for democracies to regulate such an important issue as freedom of expression.

Making a bad situation worse

If the Commission promotes self-regulation, there is a high risk of disproportionate restrictions resulting in censorship. Liberties is of the opinion that the Commission should encourage other methods of informing the public about factually correct news that are highlighted in the report.

"Disinformation can distort democratic debate. But letting companies decide what we can and can not say makes a bad situation worse. We need independent media companies and well-funded independent public service broadcasters to balance the controversial content of disinformation," says Eva Simon, advocacy officer for freedom of expression at Liberties.

Independent news services exist to guarantee that we have free speech and access to information. However, the report ignores how to preseve these fundamental rights. This profound shortcoming is due to two reasons. First, all human rights groups that applied to be part of the Hight Level Working Group were turned down. Second, the report is a rushed job, written in less than 8 weeks. Such an important issue requires proper consultation and a solid base of data about the media market and society.