New report recommends development of robust procedures for reporting and monitoring online disinformation

More robust procedures for reporting and monitoring online disinformation need to be developed for the EU Code of Practice on Disinformation to become a more effective tool in fighting disinformation. That’s according to CovidCheck, a new research report assessing the implementation of the Code in relation to COVID-19. Commissioned by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), the research was undertaken by the Institute for Future Media, Democracy and Society (FuJo) at Dublin City University (DCU) and was published today (16.09.21).

Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, TikTok and Twitter are all signatories to the self-regulatory Code of Practice on Disinformation. CovidCheck is the third monitoring report commissioned by the BAI, and prepared by FuJo, on the implementation of the Code in Ireland.  This report provides analysis of the 47 monthly transparency reports, submitted by the signatories to the Code between August 2020 and April 2021 in response to the European Commission’s June 2020 communication on tackling COVID-19 disinformation. This analysis is supplemented by Irish case studies focused on Facebook and TikTok, and a review of the signatories’ transparency regarding the use of AI and automation in fighting COVID-19 disinformation.  

The research found that while the code has proven a useful instrument in prompting signatories to respond to concerns about disinformation, there are shortcomings in relation to its implementation and scope. Researchers cited difficulties in assessing the timeliness, completeness and impact of the actions undertaken by the signatories. The report sets out nine recommendations for more effective reporting and monitoring of disinformation. The report recommends that:

  • Reporting should be standardised, as far as possible, to ensure necessary and relevant information is provided in a manner that facilitates monitoring.
  • Signatories should provide clear definitions of relevant policies to combat disinformation, clear definitions of common terms, and how these terms are operationalised on their services.
  • Relevant stakeholders should introduce a framework to address disinformation in comments that is consistent with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the principle of freedom of opinion.
  • Regarding platforms’ active users, clear parameters should be defined for the reporting of granular data about specific action areas and in relation to EU Member States.
  • Meaningful KPIs (key performance indicators) should be defined for the reporting of results and outcomes in relation to key areas including: content labels, content and account removals, factchecking and media literacy campaigns. In addition, signatories should report on their own efforts to measure the efficacy of these actions and provide data to independent researchers to verify that efficacy.
  • The commitment to an independent auditor should be implemented under the revised Code and that the signatories provide adequate funding and resources to support this position.
  • In order to verify the implementation of actions, standardised procedures should be agreed for future monitoring.
  • Signatories should report on their use of automated systems to combat disinformation, including an explanation of what systems are used, what languages are covered, what kinds of disinformation they are trained to detect, and what risk assessments have been conducted on the AI systems used to tackle disinformation. It is also recommended that the European Commission articulates the need for risk assessments related to disinformation in the strengthened Code.
  • Signatories should embrace the need for transparency and data-sharing with researchers, as well as expand and improve services that allow researchers to access data. It is also recommended that the European Commission creates a clear regulatory framework for accessing data for research on disinformation and expands the scope of its current proposal to include more stakeholders, including members of civil society organisations.

Commenting, FuJo researcher, Dr Eileen Culloty said: “The Code of Practice on Disinformation offers a means for signatories to provide transparency about their efforts to combat disinformation. Unfortunately, many critical shortcomings have not been addressed since the Code was adopted in 2018. This includes the lack of a standardised reporting system and a lack of clarity around whether user comments, which were often found to be a source of disinformation, fell under content removal policies. The role of AI in content moderation is another area that needs to be addressed. We hope the findings and recommendations of this report contribute to the strengthening of the Code, including the development of robust procedures for reporting and monitoring.”

The research for this report is part of a larger project implemented by the European Regulators Group for Audio-visual Media Services (ERGA) that is designed to assist the European Commission in monitoring the effectiveness of the Code. The BAI chaired the ERGA sub-group in 2019 and continues to play an active role in the group.

Deputy Chief Executive of the BAI, Celene Craig added: “The importance of social media in our information ecosystem is continuing to grow and the need for increased oversight of, and accountability by, social media platforms is now accepted. Legislation underpinning this is progressing at national and European levels. The BAI is playing a leading role in this process and is committed to supporting the establishment of an effective regulatory regime in Ireland that will serve the needs of Irish and European citizens. The implementation of the Code is part of this process, and this experience will provide a useful reference point for future regulatory engagement with the signatories.  Work on the revised Code is underway and the BAI believes that the analysis and recommendations in CovidCheck can make a valuable contribution to this process.”

The report can be found here.


Media contact: Thelma Harris / Joanne Ahern, DHR Communications, Tel: 083-0517622 / 087-9881837.

All other queries: BAI, 01-6441200.

Notes to Editors:

  • Dr Eileen Culloty from FuJo, and Celene Craig, Deputy Chief Executive of the BAI are available for interview.

About the report:

In April 2018, the European Commission adopted the communications policy ‘Tackling Disinformation: A European Approach’, which proposed the development of a self-regulatory code of practice for online platforms and the advertising industry to increase transparency and to better protect users. The Code of Practice on Disinformation was published in September 2018. Signatories to the Code have committed to addressing five key areas: a) scrutiny of ad placements; b) political advertising and issue-based advertising; c) integrity of services; d) empowering consumers, and e) empowering the research community. ERGA is the body tasked with supporting the European Commission in monitoring the implementation of the five commitment areas – or pillars – of the Code. To do so, national media regulators agreed to participate in the ERGA-led project, to monitor the implementation of the Code on a national level. The BAI commissioned FuJo to monitor the implementation of the Code in Ireland. CovidCheck is the third report in this series. The first report ElectCheck 2019 examined the political advertising activity on Facebook, Twitter and Google during the 2019 European Election campaign in the context of the platforms’ commitments to the Code to address the spread of online disinformation and fake news.. CodeCheck  published in April 2020 was the second report and looked at how Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Google implemented their commitments under all five Pillars of the Code during 2019 with a particular focus on activities to empower consumers and the research community. Both reports found that significant weaknesses remain in terms of the content and structure of the Code, and the processes for reporting, monitoring, and enforcing the commitments. The analysis from both reports was reflected in an overall ERGA Report published in May 2020, which included several specific recommendations for strengthening the Code.

In response to concerns about false claims regarding COVID-19 contributing to public confusion and potentially undermining efforts to stop the spread of the virus, the European Commission issued a Joint Communication in June 2020: Tackling COVID-19 disinformation – Getting the facts right. It established a COVID-19 monitoring programme for the six platform signatories of the EU Code of Practice on Disinformation asking them to report on their policies and actions to address COVID-19 disinformation with a particular emphasis on 1) Initiatives to promote authoritative content at the EU and Member State level; 2) Initiatives and tools to improve users’ awareness; 3) Manipulative behaviour, and 4) Data on flows of advertising linked to COVID-19 disinformation. ERGA members were then tasked with analysing the reports to provide an evaluation of their content at a national level. The CovidCheck report can be found here.