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Step up fake news fight at election time: top EU official

AFP  |  Brussels 

The EU's top charged with fighting says needs to redouble its efforts to tackle the phenomenon in the run-up to elections, as fears grow about Russian meddling in votes across the continent.

is working on a Europe-wide plan to deal with online, with an group to issue a report on Monday and first strategy outlines due to be unveiled next month.

has been accused of interfering in several recent European votes by using to spread bogus stories and sow discord. In January, French announced plans for laws to stop such material spreading in the run-up to elections.

Mariya Gabriel, European for the digital single market and society, told AFP in an interview that the question of during election campaigns was a key part of the group's study.

"We must redouble efforts against fake news during election periods," said Gabriel, who took over as when fellow Bulgarian was appointed to the last year.

"It is at election time when we really see how big an effect this phenomenon can have on voters."

The group includes a from AFP, as well as other major companies, and Google, and

Part of the project is to define clearly what is meant by fake news and Gabriel said she would even prefer to drop the term in favour of "online".

"Today we are seeing the perverse effects of the term 'fake news', which can be used by politicians to discredit their opponents and attack freedom of expression," she said.

In January the EU accused of pumping out thousands of pieces of in an "orchestrated strategy" aimed at destabilising the bloc in an unusually blunt assessment.

This was based on two years' work by the EU's Stratcom East taskforce, which runs a "myth-busters" website and feeds to debunk false news reports, most of them promoting agendas.

But Gabriel said she wants the EU to develop a strategy that looks beyond individual countries to build resilience across to fake news by educating citizens and encouraging to be open about the source of their content.

"We are aiming for a much larger scope -- I don't want to stop with one country or one aspect," she said.

"That's why I talk about a multi-stakeholder approach, a -- there is no "

took the lead in trying to tackle fake news with legislation last year, threatening with fines of up to 50 million euros (USD 60 million) if they do not remove bogus reports and hateful posts promptly.

The EU has so far taken a more collaborative approach with the big web players, encouraging self-regulation, and Gabriel said it was not planning to follow and down the road of trying to legislate against fake news.

"I don't start with the idea that an attack comes from this country or region, I start with the need for transparency to identify sources, where the information is coming from," she said.

"For example during election time to have a clear indication of adverts paid for by political parties to show citizens clearly that something is part of a planned campaign."

And Gabriel, 38, stressed the need to better equip young people -- and their teachers -- to identify reliable information and spot bogus news.

"Today this has become urgent. The key word is education -- must become part of courses at universities and schools," she said.

"For this we must pay attention to teachers -- we don't think of this often enough... but it is really teachers who need to master this technology to pass it on to their students.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Fri, March 09 2018. 16:05 IST