Technological giants such as Google and Facebook have six months to fight against fake news, otherwise the European Commission will take measures against them. The EC requests from online platforms and social networks to remove fake news by this October – or to face the threat of new regulation at a later date.

The Commission has come up with a series of measures hoping to eliminate what it generally describes as “disinformation” in regard to the forthcoming European elections in 2019. By July, the platforms must adopt the practical rules drawn up by the Commission.

“We will expect tangible and measurable results in October and we reserve the right to decide in December whether we need to introduce additional measures”, EU Commissioner Maria Gabriel said.

“This disinformation dates back to centuries, but the digital tools allow it to spread with scale and speed that we have never seen before”, British EU Commissioner Julian King noted.

According to data from the EC, disinformation has affected the elections in 18 countries, while 83 per cent of Europeans perceive fake news as a threat to democracy.

Gabriel explained that there would be no proposal for a legislative initiative and the term “fake news” would most likely not be used because there was no EU-wide definition. Instead, the wording “online disinformation”, covering the deliberate creation of lies in order to harm a particular person, company or community, is required.

The European External Action Service has affected 3900 cases of propaganda (false) communications in the last three years in defence of Kremlin’s positions. The Commission notes that “fake news” are messages that do not include journalistic errors, satire or parody, but are deliberately created to influence society and blur the truth.

From online platforms, the Commission expects tightened control over advertising in sites that disseminate propaganda and disinformation. Platforms should introduce restrictions in political advertising and delete fake consumers. The deployment of an international network of data verification experts is envisaged.

But not everybody, however, is satisfied with this – critics note that such efforts risk imposing restrictions on freedom of speech and private life.

Maryant Fernández Pérez, a senior consultant in the European Digital Rights Organisation based in Brussels, said in a statement that more evidence is needed to support the Commission’s plans.

“For the moment, we have different initiatives on the part of the European Commission, which are not even aware of how to identify the problem that is addressed”, she said.

Meanwhile, a new investigation of BBC alarms for false positive online feedback on services and products circulating on the Internet. They are traded in order to be written in an unclear interest and to influence consumers’ opinions. In addition to political, the impact of false news also has an economic dimension. Online review sites are increasingly popular among business and customers. In the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority estimates that such feedback affects purchases from British consumers worth around €23 billion per year.