How can the EU safeguard democracy at the digital age? 

Faktabaari (FactBar) Founder Mikko Salo was invited 15th of October to European parliament to catalyse debate on “Digitization and the defense of democracy” organised by European Internet Forum. Debate was moderated by MEP Roza Thun with high-level contributions from academy, business and European Commission. The interventions were followed by lively debate including several MEP’s and industry representatives. The purpose was both to evaluate the situation and identify concrete EU policies to safeguard democracy in the EU.

Below Mikko Salo notes on 7 minutes intervention on behalf of transparency NGO run Finnish factchecking service. Awarded Faktabaari (FactBar) has contributed to the fact-based European debate and election integrity with independent fact-checking and digital media literacy since 2014 and was already represented by Salo at the EU high-level group on online disinformation

Thank you for the invitation. 

My aim is to provoke debate especially with focus **on elections and related disinformation **- themes transparency NGO run Faktabaari (FactBar) has worked intensively since 2014 European elections. 

Let’s approach the magnitude of challenges to EU from next US  foreseen US presidential elections. The next US presidential elections are widely expected to be dirtiest ever and next global benchmark for new forms of disinformation and elections interference.

With fact-checking background, I am especially worried on the impact of audiovisual manipulations - including “deep fakes” - when properly micro-targeted in social media advertisement platforms.

Until we have better tools, the dominant social media will and should remain under public pressure. US presidential elections are the reference social media elections also for EU.


Having followed closely many of the European efforts to tackle disinformation in 2019,  I argue that we just about survived 2019 European elections and remained now operational to prepare for worse.

Latest 2024 EP elections will measure both the success of your legistlature but also the success of EU digital response to defending democracy and we all have lot to do soon.
The EU foreseen rescue plan  – so called “democracy action plan” - is to be build already in “100 days” with the lead of VP Jourova. In other words the “rescue plan” is to be build
already by February with close links to VP Vestager responsabilities. 

Within my short slot, I raise 3 key challenges and 3 key areas of actions on how, I believe, EU should safeguard democracy in the digital age. 

1. Deliver tangible results

EU needs to deliver tangible policy results to citizens and by that demonstrate efficiency and value added of European democracy. These results do not need to limit to digital world - tangible results can also for example be EU level migration policy or the green deal.

2. Fix broaken internet with privacy and mediainnovation
Internet is broaken and eg. digital newsecosystem driven by polarising advertisement algorithms. EU needs to enable privacy and media innovation to rebuild trust. 

3 . Ensure media pluralism and awareness
EU needs to ensure especially plurality of journalistic media while scaling-up measurable media literacy efforts to “massive scale” (citing EU HLEG on online disinformation report).

Lots of work already with these. 


What about the 3 key areas of concrete actions?

1. We need to regulate ”advertisement industry” to commit to “digital ethics” starting with election advertisement.
I am looking forward especially Commission initiatives on digital ethics based e.g. on good work done by EDPS in unmasking online manipulation.

****2.** We need to build on GDPR and work towards human-centric data-economy and enable media innovation** 
This should be done in line with  “My data” and “digital human rights” currently promoted by FI Council presidency.

**3. We need to ensure independent oversight and funding.**
We need to develop transparent funding models to ensure independent base funding for public service journalism, fact-checking and media literacy. These cannot become dependent solely e.g. on state nor social media platforms, but require multiple funding sources ensuring independence - some sort of clearing house. 


As a whole EU needs to join forces to safeguard democracy 

As said EU just about remained politically operational  to start delivering for these future challenges.  Now, we should learn especially on US and UK elections while getting ready both at national and EU level. 

Finally, to continue the debate with media angle, I encourage interested MEP’s to contribute to proposed EP Media intergroup. Defending democracy requires holistic approach, cooperation  and political will. The intergroup could be a structured way to keep the crucial media sector at the core of democracy dialogue now spread in many relevant committees…. naturally along EIF.  We need all networks to defend our democracies.

Thank you

Mikko Salo

The debate continues also 14.11. with seminar on Democracy and Media in the Digital Era By Enlightment Forum. 

Recordings of the event will be made available by EIF.


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