June 21th, 2024 | 6:48

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Prebunking: The EU's new tool against disinformation

Jesus Carames

May 21, 2024 | 7:08 p.m.

As part of her campaign for re-election in the European Parliament, Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, has proposed a series of measures to combat disinformation in the European Union (EU). His speech, prior to the European Parliament elections, reinforces the policy of "fighting disinformation" with the risk of censorship that this entails.

The “European Democracy Shield”: A new entity to combat disinformation

Von der Leyen has announced the creation of the "European Democracy Shield", an entity that will coordinate the national agencies of the EU member countries to search for "information and manipulation." This body will be modeled after the Swedish Psychological Defense Agency and will have as its main objective the surveillance and control of disinformation and information manipulation.

In her speech, Von der Leyen made accusations against some European politicians and promised that under her leadership, the European Commission will prioritize the fight against disinformation. He demonstrated, however, a poor understanding of the concepts of disinformation, cyberattacks and extremism, confusing them while warning about foreign influence and manipulation.

Additionally, the president praised the Digital Services Law, a law that has been the subject of controversy for its implications on censorship and freedom of expression. He highlighted the need to be "very vigilant and inflexible" to ensure its correct application, which has raised concerns about the balance between information security and fundamental rights.

The “prebunking” strategy: Preventing misinformation before it happens

One of the key tools that Von der Leyen defends is “prebunking.” This mechanism seeks to warn citizens about misinformation before it occurs, thus influencing their perception of the information. According to the president, “prebunking is much more successful than debunking,” a statement that underlines the importance of prevention rather than subsequent correction of misinformation.

“Prebunking” consists of informing and educating the population about possible lies and manipulations before they are widely spread. This contrasts with “debunking,” which involves debunking false information after it has already been disseminated.

Von der Leyen stated that "disinformation is a threat to democracy and EU security", and that prebunking is an effective tool to mitigate these risks. Their approach aims to equip citizens with the skills and knowledge necessary to recognize and reject false information from the start.

Criticism and concerns about censorship

Despite the good intentions behind these measures, There are significant concerns about the potential for censorship and excessive control of information. Critics argue that the fight against disinformation could be used as an excuse to limit freedom of expression and silence dissenting voices.

The "European Shield of Democracy" and laws such as the Digital Services Law have been criticized for their vagueness and for giving broad powers to authorities to determine what information is considered disinformation. This could lead to abuses and the suppression of legitimate information under the pretext of protecting democracy.

Furthermore, the prebunking approach raises questions about the objectivity and impartiality of the authorities charged with this task. Who decides what information is potentially harmful and deserves to be prebunked? Lack of clarity in these aspects could undermine public trust and generate more skepticism towards institutions.

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