Disinformation

Few issues are as contentious as the role and spread of "disinformation" on social media and Internet platforms.

First and foremost is the thorny question of how disinformation can best be identified and when platforms should be required to block and/or remove content. The issue touches upon core questions of free speech and political expression. And has led to a plethora of confused policies and stop-start initiatives. According to a recent "code of conduct" agreed in 2018 with platform-industry input, platforms must remove any content that "may cause public harm" or poses "threats to democratic political and policymaking processes as well as public goods such as the protection of European Union citizens’ health, the environment or security." But the same agreement excludes a ban on "misleading advertising, reporting errors, satire and parody, or clearly identified partisan news and commentary." Drawing on the complex problem of stopping the spread of inaccurate health information in a global emergency, the European Commission released tackling COVID-19 disinformation - getting the facts right, a 16-page communication proposing monthly progress reports and tougher restrictions and labelling requirements for false health information that might be circulating through encrypted messaging apps.

Given the difficulty of legislating in this area, regulators have tended to rely on "self-regulation," such as the code of practice on disinformation mentioned above. But how well are these semi-formal agreements working? Are there perhaps lessons – positive as well as negative – that could be drawn up based on the relative success or failure of these codes in practice and the real-world functioning of the Internet in an unprecedented era of democratic expression and outright disinformation?

Below we pulled together some of the best evidence on the relative spread and level of identifiable disinformation as well as the efforts to contain and remove it.

Additional information on disinformation around the world can be found on the World Intermediary Liability Map (WILMap), led by the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School.

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Number of Coronavirus-Related Ads Blocked or Removed by Google for Policy Violations

The chart shows the number of Coronavirus-related ads removed or blocked by Google for policy violations, since January 2020 until April 2022. The data used are those reported by Google under the European Union Code of Practice on Disinformation monitoring programme.
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Number of Coronavirus-Related Shopping Offers Blocked or Removed by Google for Policy Violations

The chart shows the number of Coronavirus-related ads removed or blocked by Google for policy violations, since January 2020 until April 2022. The data used are those reported by Google under the European Union Code of Practice on Disinformation monitoring programme.
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Number of Engagements Connected to the Clearly Anti-European Union Articles

The graph illustrates the high number of engagements connected to clearly anti-European Union articles related to the Vote Leave campaign and to Russia Today and Sputnik. It also shows the high level of engagement of Russian disinformation organisations in United Kingdom, in the months leading up to Brexit. The European Union refers to EU28. The United Kindom left the European Union on 31 January 2020.
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Number of Publications Found in Literature Review on Science Denial by Publication Year (1990-2015)

The chart presents the annual trend of the number of reviewed publications on climate and environmental science denial from 1990 to 2015, based on the results from the report "Climate and environmental science denial: A review of the scientificliterature published in 1990-2015." The data shows that there has been a steady increase in publications on climate and environmental science denial since 2010. In general, scientific denialism is the rejection of basic facts and concepts that are undisputed, well-supported parts of the scientific consensus on a subject, in favor of radical and controversial ideas. Specifically on climate science denial, a substantial body of scientific literature exists.
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Number of Videos Removed Containing Medical Misinformation on TikTok

The chart presents the distribution of videos removed from TikTok, found in violation of the community guidelines, for the period July 2020 to April 2022. The report shows the efforts of TikTok to limit the spread of COVID-19 disinformation online and it is part of the European Commission's Code of Practice on Disinformation monitoring process. The data covers only four European countries: France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
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Number of Videos Removed Containing Medical Misinformation on TikTok

The chart presents the distribution of videos removed from TikTok, found in violation of the community guidelines, for the period January 2021 to April 2022. The report shows the efforts of TikTok to limit the spread of COVID-19 disinformation online and it is part of the European Commission's Code of Practice on Disinformation monitoring process. The data covers all European Union countries.
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Number of Videos Removed Containing the Term “Coronavirus” or “Covid” Found in Violation of TikTok Policy

The chart presents the distribution of videos removed from TikTok, found in violation of the community guidelines, for the period July 2020 to April 2022. The report was produces under the European Commission's Code of Practice on Disinformation monitoring process, and shows the efforts of TikTok to limit the spread of COVID-19 disinformation online. The data covers only four European countries: France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
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Number of Videos Removed Containing the Term “Coronavirus” or “Covid” Found in Violation of TikTok Policy

The chart presents the distribution of videos removed from TikTok, found in violation of the community guidelines, for the period January 2021 to April 2022. The report shows the efforts of TikTok to limit the spread of COVID-19 disinformation online and it is part of the European Commission's Code of Practice on Disinformation monitoring process. The data covers all European Union countries.
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Objects Most Often Attacked by Disinformation or Manipulation on the Internet in Poland (2019, in Polish)

The chart illustrated the results of a 2019 survey that looked at the perception of Polish internet users towards the most often objects targeted by disinformation or Internet manipulation. The results showed that Poles identified the government and central institutions and opposition parties as the subjects most often targeted by this type of attacks. On the other hand, the least targeted objects were the ethnic or national minorities or the army.
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Online Media Polarisation Score (2017)

The chart presents the polarisation scores for the countries where the left–right distinction is meaningful, as shown by the Reuters Institute report. The data shows that polarisation amongst the most popular online news brands is highest in the United States, followed by Italy, Spain and Poland. Nordic and Western European countries exhibit lower degrees of polarisation. The results are based on answers to the the survey questions "Q1F. Some people talk about ‘left’, ‘right’, and ‘centre’ to describe parties and politicians. With this in mind, where would you place yourself on the following scale?"and "Q5b. Which of the following brands have you used to access news ONLINE in the last week?"