By: Cayley Young
Earlier this week, European Union officials released the latest attempt to battle fake news, a uniform “code of practice”. The code outlines specific protocols related to online advertisements consisting of politics or containing political messaging. Protocols address best practices to address campaigns dedicated to misinformation and call for investment in products capable of targeting fake news bots used to cause political turmoil. While adoption of code practices is completely voluntary, the EU is optimistic that key industry players like Google, Facebook, and Twitter will lead the way with full compliance.
Despite good intentions, some are concerned the proposed code will be ineffective and could lead towards unwarranted infringement on personal liberties as media laws in other countries have. For example, Egypt’s rather new media law which prohibits the spread of false news by anyone with a 5,000 follower count on single social media platform has become an issue for many citizens. Recently, the Egyptian government has shifted its focus to stricter enforcement of the law recently in response to the massive impact of fake news on the U.S. presidential election. Although initially proposed to prevent the spread of calculated falsehoods, Egyptian citizens are concerned it is now being used as a channel for government oppression. The Committee to Protect Journalists has documented the case of several female journalists and tourists deemed in violation of the law after posting videos describing personal experiences of sexual assault while visiting Egypt. The prescribed sentence for a fake news violation is 8 years in prison.
Despite anxieties of the new code creating a slippery slope for freedom of speech, it is unlikely the EU will follow in the footsteps of Egypt. There are several key differences between the Egyptian media law and the uniform code of practice as established by the EU. For one, adherence to the policy completely voluntary, while it’s highly suggested for companies to join, there is no penalty for abstaining. Level of involvement will likely be determined by the behavior of industry leaders, not the threat of harsher government involvement. Additionally, the code is specific to politically motivated posts from bot sources rather than genuine personal accounts. It also focuses primarily on advertisements and is solely targeted towards companies that provide access to news sources online like search engines and social media platforms, not the general public.1 That being said, the new code is less of an attack on free speech, and more of a first stitch effort to unify a fragmented industry against a unique threat.
1. Bryan Koenig, EU Unveils Self-Regulatory Code to Combat Fake News, Law360 (Sept. 26, 2018), https://www.law360.com/cybersecurity-privacy/articles/1086620/eu-unveils-self-regulatory-code-to-combat-fake-news.
2. Ruth Michaelson, Fake News Becomes Tool of Oppression After Egypt Passes New Law, The Guardian (July 27, 2018), https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/jul/27/fake-news-becomes-tool-of-repression-after-egypt-passes-new-law.