EU experts’ fake news report draws false conclusions: consumer group

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) – A consumer group on Monday said experts appointed by the European Commission to advise on tackling fake news had ignored the business model that gave the likes of Google (GOOGL.O) and Facebook (FB.O) a motive for disseminating it.

FILE PHOTO – Monique Goyens, head of the BEUC, the European consumer organization, addresses a joint news conference with European Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard of Denmark (not pictured) at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels July 11, 2012. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

The tech giants have come under fire in Europe for not doing enough to remove misleading or illegal content, including incitement to hatred, extremism and the online sale of counterfeit products.

The EU executive will publish a non-binding policy paper on the subject in the spring.

The group of 39 experts it appointed, including representatives from social media, news media and the public, called for a code of principles for online platforms and social networks.

It said companies should provide transparency by explaining how algorithms selected news shown to the public, promote media literacy and develop tools to help consumers tackle the issue.

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The experts also said authorities should let the companies regulate themselves.

Both Google and Facebook have expressed support for better controls over illicit content, saying they favor a code of conduct they could adhere to rather than being required to police such content themselves.

But Monique Goyens, Director General of BEUC – an umbrella group for 43 national consumer organizations from 31 European countries – said the experts’ report had failed to address one of the core causes of fake news.

“Platforms such as Google or Facebook massively benefit from users reading and sharing fake news articles which contain advertisements. But this expert group choose to ignore this business model. This is head-in-the-sand politics,” she said in a statement.

“The burden for de-bunking fake news should not rest on people,” she said, adding that the non-binding code of principles could turn out to be toothless.

Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; editing by John Stonestreet