This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova says the EU’s executive arm will propose sanctioning entities who spread disinformation — especially “foreign actors” from such countries as Russia and China — in an effort to “impose a cost” on those putting out fake news.
Jourova told RFE/RL in an interview to coincide with the release of the European Democracy Action Plan on December 3 the bloc must crack down on the spread of disinformation, especially for those who repeatedly do so.
“The producers [of disinformation] do not pay any price for that. And I think that it should not go without any price, so that’s why we will be considering how to apply the sanctions and the costs,” she said.
“We will deal especially with the foreign influence and foreign actors,” she added.
Jourova said sanctions will should follow the EU’s cybersanction regime, which was used for the first time this year to freeze assets and introduce visa bans on offenders — primarily Russian, Chinese, and North Korean citizens and companies — that have attacked the bloc.
The East StratCom Task Force, a division of the European External Action Service, which monitors Russian disinformation, has identified 10,000 examples of pro-Kremlin disinformation since it started monitoring in 2015.
When asked whether Russian media companies such as RT and Sputnik can be targeted in the future, Jourova said she didn’t want to specify at the moment, but added that “it can be governmental or nongovernmental actors, whoever will be identified, using very good evidence, that they are systematic producers or promoters of disinformation.”
Some EU countries, notably the Baltic states, have already banned Russian media belonging to the Rossia Segodnya (Russia Today) media group since it has been linked to Dmitry Kiselyov.
Kiselyov, a TV commentator known for his anti-Western diatribes, is on the European Union’s sanctions list for his role in promoting Kremlin propaganda in support of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
He heads the state Rossia Segodnya media group, which focuses mainly on Russian news and official propaganda abroad.
Jourova said that Europeans were being inundated with “an avalanche” of misinformation, especially during the current coronavirus pandemic, that aims to “harm the people in Europe.”
Next week the European Union will also propose new, tougher legislation for online platforms such Facebook, Google and Twitter to take more action on the transparency of ad placements and moves against fake accounts.
Jourova said she believes the companies will comply with stricter regulations that increase “the responsibility and accountability” of social-media platforms even though so far they have cooperated with Brussels solely on a voluntary basis.
“The only efficient way to force anyone, not only big tech, is to adopt the regulation. This is what we are going to do next week,” she said.
“I think that they know what they can expect from us, that once we adopt the legislation through our very difficult legislative process, which is now ahead of us, we will insist on compliance,” she added.
The European Democracy Action Plan says that the 27-member bloc “needs to use more systematically the full range of tools in its toolbox for countering foreign interference and influence operations and further develop them, including by imposing costs on the perpetrators.”
It is the first time that the European Commission has suggested in an official document the imposition of sanctions for the spread of disinformation.
The document adds that the plan comes at a time when “pressure is mounting on democracy, the rule of law, and human rights globally.”
Warning that information can be “weaponized by foreign actors,” the document goes on to say that “certain third countries (in particular Russia and China) have engaged in targeted influence operations and disinformation campaigns around COVID‑19 in the EU, its neighborhood, and globally, seeking to undermine democratic debate, exacerbate social polarization, and improve their own image.”