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#FakeNews: how to counter misinformation

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Social media not only serves as a source of news for nearly half of Europeans, but it also has made spreading fake news easier and faster. Six out of ten news items are shared without actually being read. MEPS raised concerns about the spread of disinformation, political propaganda and hate speech in plenary on 5 April. However, they disagreed on the best way to respond to the problem. Watch our video above for an overview of the debate.

Fake news consists of  fabricated stories posing as genuine journalism with the aim of manipulating readers. As old as the printing press, the phenomenon gained momentum during last year’s presidential campaign in the United States, not least due to the growing use of social media as a source for news. In fact viral fake news received more engagement on Facebook than real news in the final three months of the 2016 campaign for the White House.

Fake news consists mainly of “clickbait” and disinformation, content whose main purpose is to attract attention, generate traffic to a certain webpage and thereby gain revenue from advertising. It can also entail deceptive content created to undermine political opponents. Russia, for example, has been using disinformation in its ongoing hybrid war against Ukraine.

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What can the EU do about fake news?

A plenary debate in Parliament on 5 April demonstrated that there is no agreement between MEPs on how to best tackle the proliferation of hate speech and fake news online. Some MEPs such as Slovenian S&D member Tanja Fajon called for fines to be to be imposed on those who fail to eliminate fake news or illegal content, whereas others including UK ECR member Andrew Lewer questioned who should decide what hate speech is.

A number of MEPs vigorously criticised any moves to introduce limits on free speech online. “Censorship is not an alternative when we’re trying to make the rule of law meaningful online,” asserted Dutch ALDE member Marietje Schaake. She added: “I am not reassured when Silicon Valley or Mark Zuckerberg are the de-facto designers of our realities or of our truths.”

German EPP member Monika Hohlmeier also spoke in favour of fighting fake news with appropriate legislation: “We do have freedom of opinion, but you don’t have alternative facts, you just have facts. It’s essential that we take legal measures at the EU level so that we can react effectively.”

However, German GUE/NGL member Martina Michels described it as naive to believe that the problem of fake news would disappear with regulation: “If you take a look at the causes of populism and hate speech, they are not on the internet. They are found within society itself and it is the climate in society that we will have to change.”

German Greens/EFA member Julia Reda was also sceptical: “No technology is qualified to make the difficult decision needed to qualify hate speech. By relying solely on technology, we are not helping the victims and we are silencing free speech.” She called for more investment in law enforcement regarding hate speech and spoke of the need to make it easier to report online hate crimes.

Economy

Issuance of green bonds will strengthen the international role of the euro

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Eurogroup ministers discussed the international role of the euro (15 February), following the publication of the European Commission's communication of (19 January), ‘The European economic and financial system: fostering strength and resilience’.

President of the Eurogroup, Paschal Donohoe said: “The aim is to reduce our dependence on other currencies, and to strengthen our autonomy in various situations. At the same time, increased international use of our currency also implies potential trade-offs, which we will continue to monitor. During the discussion, ministers emphasized the potential of green bond issuance to enhance the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate transition objective.”

The Eurogroup has discussed the issue several times in recent years since the December 2018 Euro Summit. Klaus Regling, the managing director of the European Stability Mechanism said that overreliance on the dollar contained risks, giving Latin America and the Asian crisis of the 90s as examples. He also referred obliquely to “more recent episodes” where the dollar’s dominance meant that EU companies could not continue to work with Iran in the face of US sanctions. Regling believes that the international monetary system is slowly moving towards a multi-polar system where three or four currencies will be important, including the dollar, euro and renminbi. 

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European Commissioner for the Economy, Paolo Gentiloni, agreed that the euro’s role could be strengthened through the issuance of green bonds enhancing the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate objectives of the Next Generation EU funds.

Ministers agreed that broad action to support the international role of the euro, encompassing progress on amongst other things, Economic and Monetary Union, Banking Union and Capital Markets Union were needed to secure the euros international role.

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EU

European human rights court backs Germany over Kunduz airstrike case

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An investigation by Germany into a deadly 2009 airstrike near the Afghan city of Kunduz that was ordered by a German commander complied with its right-to-life obligations, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday (16 February), writes .

The ruling by the Strasbourg-based court rejects a complaint by Afghan citizen Abdul Hanan, who lost two sons in the attack, that Germany did not fulfil its obligation to effectively investigate the incident.

In September 2009, the German commander of NATO troops in Kunduz called in a U.S. fighter jet to strike two fuel trucks near the city which NATO believed had been hijacked by Taliban insurgents.

The Afghan government said at the time 99 people, including 30 civilians, were killed. Independent rights groups estimated between 60 and 70 civilians were killed.

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The death toll shocked Germans and ultimately forced its defence minister to resign over accusations of covering up the number of civilian casualties in the run-up to Germany’s 2009 election.

Germany’s federal prosecutor general had found that the commander did not incur criminal liability, mainly because he was convinced when he ordered the airstrike that no civilians were present.

For him to be liable under international law, he would have had to be found to have acted with intent to cause excessive civilian casualties.

The European Court of Human Rights considered the effectiveness of Germany’s investigation, including whether it established a justification for lethal use of force. It did not consider the legality of the airstrike.

Of 9,600 NATO troops in Afghanistan, Germany has the second-largest contingent behind the United States.

A 2020 peace agreement between the Taliban and Washington calls for foreign troops to withdraw by May 1, but U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is reviewing the deal after a deterioration in the security situation in Afghanistan.

Germany is preparing to extend the mandate for its military mission in Afghanistan from March 31 until the end of this year, with troop levels remaining at up to 1,300, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.

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EU

Digitalization of EU justice systems: Commission launches public consultation on cross-border judicial co-operation

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On 16 February, the European Commission launched a public consultation on the modernization of EU justice systems. The EU aims to support member states in their efforts to adapt their justice systems to the digital age and improve EU cross-border judicial co-operation. Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders (pictured) said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of digitalization, including in the field of justice. Judges and lawyers need digital tools to be able to work together faster and more efficiently.

At the same time, citizens and businesses need online tools for an easier and more transparent access to justice at a lower cost. The Commission strives to push this process forward and support member states in their efforts, including as regards facilitating their cooperation in cross-border judicial procedures by using digital channels.” In December 2020, the Commission adopted a communication outlining the actions and initiatives intended to advance the digitalization of justice systems across the EU.

The public consultation will gather views on the digitalization of EU cross-border civil, commercial and criminal procedures. The results of the public consultation, in which a broad range of groups and individuals can participate and which is available here until 8 May 2021, will feed into an initiative on digitalisation of cross-border judicial cooperation expected at the end of this year as announced in the 2021 Commission's Work Programme.

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