MAY 2024

Jānis Buholcs | Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences
Anastasija Tetarenko-Supe | Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences
Sten Torpan | University of Tartu
Andres Kõnno | Tallinn University
Vanessa Vorteil | Tallinn University
Auksė Balčytienė | Vytautas Magnus University
Rimgailė Kasparaitė | Vytautas Magnus University


This report provides an overview of how fact-checking and other attempts at combating disinformation are regulated in Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania.

No laws, government regulations, or other legally binding documents in the Baltic States specifically deal with fact-checking. However, in most cases, fact-checking takes place within the regulatory context of journalism and mass media. Fact-checking is also linked with other initiatives and activities to limit disinformation, which the legal documents and policies in the Baltic states recognize as a problem that needs interventions. Examining how disinformation is targeted in the Baltic countries provides additional insight into the legal and political context in which fact-checking operates.
The report reviews the regulatory aspects of the Baltic states on various levels. First, we cover legal regulation and examine the appropriate laws, government regulations, policy documents, and other official papers. Second, we review the implementation of the 2022 Strengthened Code of Practice on Disinformation in the Baltic states. Third, we describe documents and activities associated with combating disinformation, strengthening the information space, and promoting media literacy outside the legal framework. The final part describes the self-regulation of journalism and fact-checking, including the codes of ethics and professional standards of journalists and fact-checkers.

The main findings are as follows:

  1. The Baltic states have chosen different approaches to counter disinformation. On the one hand, the legal norms in the laws that deal with hooliganism or disturbance of public order can be applied to those who spread false information. On the other hand, the Criminal Code of Lithuania defines disinformation and explicitly forbids disseminating it. The countries have the legal means to block access to content that violates their laws—in particular, Russian-based TV channels that broadcast
    propaganda are blocked.
  2. Lawmakers are adapting the legal framework to face the current challenges. One example is the 2024 amendment to Latvia’s Criminal law, which makes using deep fakes (artificial intelligence) to manipulate elections illegal. In 2024, Lithuania amended its Criminal Code to outlaw the use of manipulated social media accounts to disseminate information aimed at harming the constitutional order, territorial integrity, defense, or other interests of the state.
  3. The Baltic states differ in their regulation of journalism and the media. In Latvia and Lithuania, legal norms exist that describe what the professional standards of journalism media should be. This allows authorities to distinguish between legitimate media outlets and manipulative ones more easily, but it also creates risks to journalism. Estonia has fewer regulations in this regard.
  4. The Baltic states have legal norms that allow them to block content that violates the laws (for example, threatens the security or public order of the state): access to certain websites may be restricted, and redistribution of certain TV channels forbidden (such as Russian-based outlets, which have distributed propaganda).
  5. In their policies and communications, the Baltic states have described the importance of strengthening the informational resilience of societies. The acknowledgment of the dangers of disinformation and the need to promote media literacy and protect the national information space appear in several policy documents. This indicates that in the political agenda, the availability of quality content and the need to foster media literacy are being interpreted through a security lens. The attention the authorities have paid to supporting journalism varies. Latvia and Lithuania have introduced mechanisms that help media outlets, including financially, but Estonia does not have such policies.
  6. The implementation of the Code of Practice on Disinformation is not actively monitored by the respective authorities in the Baltic states. The countries are still in various stages of establishing the National Coordinator for the Digital Services Act. In Estonia, the Digital Services Coordinator was not designated yet at the time of writing the report. In Latvia, the officials see the implementation of the Digital Services Act, which in a co-regulatory framework operates together with the Code of Practice, as being of higher priority, and they expect to have the resources and instruments to enforce the
    Digital Services Act. Since the Code of Practice on Disinformation is a voluntary document signed by platforms and the biggest platforms are legally registered in other countries, national officials do not rely extensively on the Code while doing their duties.
  7. Many reports, studies, and commentaries by non-governmental and extragovernmental Baltic entities have been published in recent years. These include studies on disinformation and resilience to it in these countries, discussions about the safety of journalists, reports on the state of media literacy, etc. These documents indicate the high level of attention these issues have received in the public agenda.
  8. The professional conduct of journalists, including fact-checkers, is shaped by codes of ethics. Each country has one or more organizations with their own code of ethics and enforcement mechanisms. These organizations rarely receive complaints about the work of fact-checking journalists, but two such cases have been examined in Latvia. Furthermore, several fact-checking organizations are part of the International Fact-checking Network and the European Fact-checking Standards Network. Each of these organizations has standards that regulate various aspects of the work of factchecking organizations. These organizations need to comply with these standards to be admitted.
  9. Fact-checking work is also regulated by unwritten rules that develop within newsrooms. Fact-checkers see countering disinformation, particularly Russian narratives, educating society, and promoting accountability of politicians as the primary purposes of their work. The fact-checking work is collaborative, which means that more than one person takes part in developing it (choosing the topic of the article, considering the sources, and reviewing it before publication). Some of the criteria that determine whether a claim is chosen to be checked are its popularity on social media
    and the prominence of its source (for example, whether the source is an influential politician). However, fact-checkers also employ their journalistic professional judgment regarding the harm level of the claim and its newsworthiness.

Read the full report here: