The European Commission Takes Action against Disinformation

13 May 2021

A team of experts from the University of Navarra, involving STI expert Charo Sádaba, will lead an observatory on digital media in Spain and Portugal to monitor the threats of disinformation.

STI Experts

The European Commission (EC) has chosen the University of Navarra to lead the IBERIFER observatory, a consortium of 23 Spanish and Portuguese institutions that will investigate the characteristics of both countries’ digital media and study cases of disinformation in the Iberian Peninsula. The project, which joins the other seven regional hubs that will be part of the EC's European Digital Media Observatory, has a grant of 1.47 million euros from the European Union.

“Following the proliferation of hoaxes and fake news during the pandemic, the EC took a stronger step to combat disinformation by convening of several territorial observatories. It is clear that many of these campaigns have specific territories of action, which is why a strategy of several centers throughout Europe has been promoted instead of a single center for the whole of Europe," explained STI expert and dean of the University of Navarra’s Faculty of Communication Charo Sádaba, who will participate in IBERIFER.

The observatory will be led by University of Navarra professor of journalism Ramón Salaverría and will include some 70 researchers and experts from Spain and Portugal, Salaverría has indicated to the media. The IBERIFER observatory will focus on five lines of work: it will investigate the characteristics and trends of digital media in Spain and Portugal; develop computational technologies for early detection of disinformation; verify and refute disinformation; prepare strategic reports on disinformation threats; and work on media literacy initiatives for journalists, young people and society as a whole.

It is in this last line of work, precisely, that Sádaba will focus most: "One of the lines of work is media literacy, or media competence: how to work to develop the public’s critical and responsible sense about what they consume through media. Our job will be to identify good practices and propose actions, especially for vulnerable audiences such as minors or the elderly," she told STI.

In addition to being useful to other academics, communication professionals and the general public, the observatory will send reports on its investigations to the competent authorities in Spain and Portugal and to the EC. "Disinformation creates uncertainty, misconceptions, loss of confidence in institutions and, in the medium term, disaffection. All of this has the added risk of affecting social cohesion and the very value we give to democratic societies," continued Sádaba.

In Spain, along with the University of Navarra, nine other universities, various news agencies and fact-checkers, and technological institutions such as the Barcelona Supercomputing Center will be part of IBERIFER. From Portugal, the University of Aveiro and the University institute of Lisbon – ISCTE will join the project, aided by verifiers, agencies and research centers.

The other regional hubs approved by the European Union are: the Ireland Hub, Dublin City University (Ireland); EDMO BE/NL, Stichting Nederlands Institute voor Beeld in Geluid, Netherlands; The Central European Digital Media Observatory (CEDMO), at Univerzita Karlova (Czech Republic); NORDIS, Aarhus Universitet (Denmark); Belgium-Luxembourg Research Hub on Digital Media and Disinformation (EDMO BELUCOX), at Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium); DE FACTO Observatory of Information, fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques (France); and the Italian Digital Media Observatory; at the Luiss Libera Universitat Internazionale degli Studi Sociali Guido Carli (Italy).

"The harm that disinformation can cause not only to social cohesion, but also to trust in institutions, and therefore to democracies themselves is clear," Sádaba said. "Digital media is more exposed to the influence of disinformation due to its digital nature,” she went on. “Therefore, ensuring measures that allow them to more quickly verify information is vital for them to continue to do their jobs. Citizens also need tools to help them combat this online content.”