In the European Parliament we speak about fake news as if it is a new kind of phenomenon, but it is not. Fake news exists since ancient time. A good example of this is Vlad Tepes, now widely known as Dracula. Vlad Tepes was a ruler and fought for the independence of Romania. But thanks to Bram Stoker he is known as a vampire, as Dracula. It ruined his reputation on the world, and this was over 100 years ago.
A lot has changed since the times of Bram Stoker, yet I do not consider that in the era of social media fake news is more dangerous. However, many things have changed.
I do think that the fact that we do not pay enough attention anymore to what we are reading, is dangerous. I was born in the Soviet Union. During Soviet times my grandfather who was over 80 years old, would first listen to news from Moscow, then Tallinn and then United States. He would only then form his opinion.
Nowadays we are lazy, people simply believe what they read. As a former journalist I know that people only read headings and the text under pictures. But that is not enough.
Given the recent developments, we underestimated the role of social media. When I was working for the “paper” newspaper, Reuters was considered to be an unbelievably fast organization as they reported within 15 minutes after the fact. On social media reporting is instant and everyone can do it. There are no rules regarding sources, no requirement to represent all sides of the argument. This is problematic.
So how can we fight against fake news? Education is, of course, a first step. We need to teach our children, our youth to think critically. Everyone who reads fake news on social media obviously has access to internet, has Google and other search engines to double-check the facts.
Education of journalists is also crucial. In particular, journalists who report in minority languages. I am a Russian speaker myself, and in Estonia we do not have a single daily Russian newspaper. At the same time, 32 per cent of the population is Russian speaking. It is not difficult to guess which media they are consulting and whom they believe. And this is not only an Estonian problem, it is the same in Latvia as well as for the Romanian minority in Hungary, etcetera. Minorities should have access to information, but little attention is paid to their needs.
On the European level we need to introduce codes of conduct for the media. Currently not all Member States have such codes of conduct. Another issue is that we should avoid legislation which stimulates the distribution of fake news. An example is the Commission’s proposal for a Copyright Directive, which creates an additional right for press publishers. This will require news aggregators to buy licenses from publishers. Fake news platforms will not charge for license and this will result in a higher presence of fake news online.
As the legislator it is important to strike a balance between freedom of speech and the fight against fake news. If someone has a different attitude or opinion, it is not necessary fake news. We also need to ask ourselves why there is such a demand for these articles which are for example critical of the EU. There is a lack of trust in the EU institutions, they are too far away from ordinary people. It is our job to restore that trust.