The European Commission wants to pay people to help ensure only the kind of information it approves of is allowed to be published online.
The initiative is being called the European Digital Media Observatory and it is the continuation of a digital censorship project the EC has been working on for some time. The stated aim is to counter ‘disinformation’, which is defined as “verifiably false or misleading information that is created, presented and disseminated for economic gain or to intentionally deceive the public.”
On the surface what’s not to like about this? Everyone knows the internet is awash with misleading and biased information that presumably, at least in part, is published with the aim of persuading the public of a certain point of view. If people are given the wrong information then they might make the wrong electoral decisions and that would be bad.
The main problem with censorship is subjectivity. Who decides what is false or misleading and who can possibly be sure of the motives for someone else’s actions? The answer to that question in this case seems to be anyone who fancies €2.5 million of European public money, because today the EC published a call for tenders to create the first core service of this new censor.
“The European Digital Media Observatory will allow fact-checkers and academic researchers to bring together their efforts and actively collaborate with media organisations and media literacy experts,” said the announcement. Don’t worry folks, the experts have got this, you’ll only get the purest, most correct information from now on.
The inclusion of the private sector in this project may be designed to create the impression of neutrality as well as expertise, but whoever wins the tender will be acutely aware of who pays their salary. Can we be sure that suspected disinformation which is helpful to the EU will be treated with the same severity as that which is harmful to it? The best counter to disinformation is public scrutiny, not censorship.