Denmark considers nontransparent political advertising online a possible threat to democracy. Denmark protects free speech both in its Constitution and through its international obligations. In 2019, Denmark amended its law on foreign influence on domestic public opinion to include social media. The crime of influencing public opinion on behalf of a foreign government now carries a twelve-year term of imprisonment if carried out during elections. In 2018, the government announced eleven initiatives to combat disinformation, including requiring greater transparency in political advertising, as well as collaborations between the government and media, especially on media literacy. The Danish media industry has launched a labeling tool whereby media members can mark their websites to indicate that they are subject to the Press Council rules on media conduct.
A. Dissemination of Disinformation Using Social Media
Denmark recognizes the mass dissemination of disinformation and misinformation through social media as a threat. Denmark is especially cognizant of fake news from Russia, which the Danish defense minister, together with the defense minister of Sweden, described as a problem in a joint op-ed in 2017. Others argue that fake news is not as much of a problem as misinformation caused by commercial journalism and entertainment. However, a majority of the Danish people still consider state and traditional media to be “free from political or commercial pressure,” indicating that Danes still view these types of media as independent, and unlikely to spread misinformation or disinformation. The use of social media is on the rise in Denmark and in 2018 a majority of persons aged sixteen to eighty-nine used Facebook on a daily basis. A majority of persons aged sixteen to twenty-four also used YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram on a daily basis.
The Danish Defense in 2017 published an evaluation of international actions that had an impact on Danish security. In the report, disinformation and influence campaigns using social media were recognized as threats to Denmark. The report specified that Russia, ever since the Cold War, has believed that internal tensions within a country increase the level of influence that Russia exercises over the rest of the world. As technology has increased, the use of social media to attain these goals is thus instrumental. Moreover, the Danish Defense point to how influence campaigns become harder to spot as the statements “appear to have no state affiliation and [in] social media activities [the] Russian origin has been disguised.” The Danish Defense also notes that other groups, such as militant Islamists, use social media for propaganda purposes. The Danish Security and Intelligence Police (Politiets Efterretningstjeneste, PET) also singled out social media as a vessel for fake news and rumors.
B. Principles of Free Speech
Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are protected in the Danish Constitution:
Every person shall be at liberty to publish their ideas in print, in writing, and in speech, subject to liability in a court of law. Censorship and other preventive measures may never again be introduced.
In addition, freedom of speech is protected in the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Denmark is a party. Denmark has, however, passed laws that limit free speech and it also permits the blocking of certain websites.
A. General Rules on Advertisements Online
Danish law prohibits covert marketing, i.e. marketing should be distinguishable as advertisements, compared to editorial information in a newspaper.
The Danish Consumer Ombudsman has published Guidelines for advertisements that are made using social media. The Guide mainly targets product placement by “influencers” (bloggers, Instagrammers, etc.), but the principle applies to all advertisements. Thus, an advertisement should be distinguishable as an advertisement and it should be clear who sponsored the ad or its content.
B. Limits on Political Advertisements
1. Danish Legislation
Political advertisements may not be broadcast on television or public radio in Denmark. Danish politicians have criticized the current rules, which do not specifically prohibit political advertisements on streaming services (such as TV2 Play, or Viafree) but prohibit the same content on live television, and in 2018 discussed expanding the prohibition to also include streaming services. During the 2019 election campaign political campaigns were made available online on TV2, TV3, and Kanal 5 in connection with their streaming services. No proposals have been made to prohibit political advertisements online generally, or on social media specifically. Politicians continue to use the internet for advertising purposes. For instance the Danish politician Joachim B. Olsen reportedly published advertisements on a Canadian porn site.
2. EU Code of Practice on Disinformation
The European Union has adopted an EU Code of Practice on Disinformation that applies to Denmark as an EU Member State. Several large media platforms have voluntarily signed up to be bound by the Code. Thus, in the future Danish politicians will have to be authorized before placing political ads on Facebook in order to comply with the new Facebook user rules. Facebook also requires a clear indication of who paid for an advertisement in cases where a politician received funding to cover the cost of the advertisement.
3. Political Advertisement Tracker
In 2017, Information.dk (the website of the newspaper Dagbladet Information) launched a project together with ProPublica whereby the content of political advertisements related to the municipal election was tracked on Facebook by downloading all ads that users who subscribed to the service saw and thereafter sorting them as political and nonpolitical. According to Information.dk, the service also provided a function whereby users could see the political advertisements that were not targeted towards them by clicking “advertisements that I cannot see.”
C. Criminal Sanctions on Political Propaganda
1. Hate Speech and Propaganda
Disseminating false information is not in of itself a crime in Denmark, and typically false statements are covered by the right to free speech. However, disseminating certain false information such as with respect to the value of financial instruments is specifically prohibited. In addition, Denmark criminalizes defamation, insults, persecution (forfølgelse), and hate speech.
In 2017, the Danish Parliament repealed its then 334-year-old blasphemy law, which criminalized the public insult of religion, such as the burning of holy texts. Denmark still criminalizes public speech that ridicules groups of persons of a certain faith, as well as persons belonging to a particular “race, skin color, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation.” Engaging in such speech for propaganda purposes is considered an aggravating factor. Section 226 of the Criminal Act states as follows:
§ 266 b. A person who publicly, or with the intent of dispersal in a wider circle, makes a statement or other message by which a group of persons is threatened, ridiculed, or degraded because of race, skin color, national or ethnic origin, faith, or sexual orientation, is punished with a fine or imprisonment of up to two years.
Stk. 2. During sentencing it shall be deemed an aggravating circumstance, if [the activity] has the characteristics of being propaganda activity.
Having a propaganda intent means that “the activity [is undertaken] with the goal of influencing public opinion.” The use of a medium that facilitates dispersal to a wide circle is critical in the determination of whether the statement also violates the propaganda provision. For example, the publication in a newspaper of an ad by members of a political youth organization that made derogatory comments about Muslims, who also published the same ad online, was punished with a fourteen-day term of imprisonment for the spreading of propaganda. On the other hand, the publication of a song derogatory to Jews and Turks online was not considered propaganda, but rather hate speech. In that case the speedy removal of the song from the website and the fact that no other similar songs had been published on the website led to the conclusion that it was only hate speech rather than propaganda. In the first case the youth group had also printed 1,000 posters with the same message.
2. Criminalization of Foreign Influence on Public Opinion
In addition to hate speech and defamation, Denmark also criminalizes speech that constitutes “unlawful influence activities” by foreign governments. In 2019, Denmark amended its Criminal Act, thereby expanding unlawful influence activities to include activities that affect public opinion generally. The law also prohibits efforts to influence European parliamentary elections. In adopting the legislation, Denmark acknowledged that influence campaigns are a growing problem for Western countries, including Denmark. The amended legislation requires for culpability that the illegal action “aids or enables a [foreign state actor]” to influence public opinion in Denmark. Comments and posts published on Facebook therefore do not qualify, as Facebook is not considered a foreign power. The law has been criticized by Jorn Vestergaard, professor of Criminal Law at Copenhagen University, who argues that it will limit “free, open, and critical public debate.” Violations carry a maximum of twelve years’ imprisonment if carried out in connection with a national election, such as the Danish parliamentary election or the EU parliamentary election. The purpose of the law was to “strengthen the criminal protections against foreign influence campaigns against Denmark,” in view of rising levels of foreign influence campaigns in the country.
3. No Criminalization of Use of “Bots”
The use of bots is not criminalized in Denmark. When proposing changes to the provision on foreign influence activities discussed in Part II(B)(2), above, the proposal included reference to the use of bots by foreign governments but did not extend so far as to prohibit their use.
4. Blocking of Webpages that Sponsor Terrorism
Under Danish law, public access to websites may be blocked “if there are grounds to believe” that there are violations of Criminal Act sections 114-114i, 119, or 119a. Thus, a website may be blocked if there are grounds to believe its content promotes or sponsors terrorism. The actual access prevention is ensured through DNS-blocking, i.e. the internet supplier blocks access, based on police requests.
III. Other Government Actions
A. Creation of Action Plan and Task Force
In 2018, the Danish government ministries joined forces in an interdepartmental task force. It listed eleven initiatives, including training of Ministry of Foreign Affairs communications staff in countering misinformation. In addition, the list of initiatives included measures such as inviting representatives from the social medial platforms for a dialogue on how to handle foreign attempts to influence the Danish elections. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs noted that
influence campaign[s] can for instance include attempts to spread untrue information and stories in the media or to create a distorted coverage of a topic in order to influence an important political decision. These kind of campaigns are often designed to create discord amongst the population and seek to undermine the trust in for instance elections or public institutions.
B. Command Center Against Misinformation
In accordance with the Action Plan presented by the Danish government in 2018, joint efforts by the Danish Security Intelligence Service and the Danish Defense Intelligence Service created a Command Center with the purpose of countering misinformation from foreign sources. The initiatives provided that the agencies should collaborate in the following ways:
3. The Danish Security Intelligence Service (DSIS) and the Danish Defence Intelligence Service (DDIS) strengthen their focus on hostile foreign actors targeting Denmark with influence campaigns, including with regard to the upcoming parliamentary elections.
4. The Ministry for Economic Affairs and the Interior will in cooperation with DSIS and DDIS/The Centre for Cyber Security (CFCS) ensure that the necessary threat and vulnerability assessments are conducted in relation to the election.
5. The Ministry for Economic Affairs and the Interior’s response with regard to the election will have an increased focus on threats posed by potential foreign influence. The work will be organised in close cooperation with the appointed inter-governmental task force, especially DSIS and DDIS/CFCS.
6. The Government will offer all political parties eligible to be elected to Parliament counselling on the risk of foreign influence in relation to the upcoming parliamentary elections, including cyber-attacks, and on the options for countering such influence and attacks. The counselling will be offered through the national security authorities (DSIS and DDIS/CFSC).
However, already in 2017 the Danish Government had announced increased collaboration between the Defense Department, Danish Security Intelligence Service, Danish Defense Intelligence Service, and Ministry of Justice. At that time, the defense minister described cyberattacks as “the greatest threat against Denmark.”
C. Media Literacy Initiatives
The Open Society Institute, Sofia, published a Media Literacy Index 2018, ranking Denmark as the second most media-literate country in the EU. A number of Danish media literacy projects are listed in a survey conducted by the EU in 2018. They include both stakeholder and public authority initiatives, and most of them focus on critical thinking. An example of a governmental media literacy program is the 2017 Danish Defense training of personnel stationed in Estonia, which included training in tactics on how to combat disinformation from Russian sources. Another example is the 2015 report Media Literacy in a Danish Context.
Increased media literacy among government employees was also one of the initiatives announced by the Danish government in 2018:
2. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has launched a strengthened monitoring of disinformation in the media directed at Denmark and will – inspired by other Nordic countries – initiate training for communication officers from government authorities on the ongoing handling of disinformation.
IV. Media Coordination
The government’s action plan (the eleven initiatives mentioned above) include initiatives undertaken between media and the political parties. Specifically, it provides as follows:
8. The Government will invite representatives from the media to a dialogue on possible models for cooperation on countering potential foreign attempts to influence the upcoming parliamentary elections. This will happen with full respect for the central principles of a free and independent press.
9. The Government will invite representatives from prevalent social media platforms to a dialogue on possible models for cooperation on countering potential foreign attempts to influence the upcoming parliamentary elections. This initiative will amongst other things be based on experiences from other countries.
10. The Government will invite media with public service obligations to a dialogue on models for cooperation on countering potential foreign attempts on influencing the upcoming parliamentary elections. One of the aims being to raise awareness about the threat amongst the population.
Since the adoption of the initiatives Denmark has had a change in government, whether these initiatives will be carried over by the new government is currently unclear.
A. Industry Rules on Advertisement
The Danish media industry has launched a “labeling tool” whereby media publishers that are subject to the rules issued by the Danish Press Council mark their websites with a logo. The Press Council has also issued guidelines for media actors. Danish media is bound by the Responsible Media Act (Mediansvarsloven). The Press Council reviews complaints made against the media for violating press guidelines. Media actors (including media outlets using Facebook sites) that have signed up are obliged to follow the decision by the Press Council and remove content, and/or pay monetary fines.
B. Fact-Checking Website Tjekdet.dk
Danish media has one internationally verified fact-checking website that is a member of the International Fact Checking (IFCN) network; Tjekdet.dk. During the 2019 Parliamentary elections, Tjekdet.dk worked together with Facebook to verify the accuracy of stories shared on Facebook. Tjekdet.dk is owned and operated by Mandag Morgen, which describes itself as a combination of a media house and a think-tank.
C. Misinformation During 2019 Election Campaign
Reports indicate that as many as half of all Danish voters were worried about fake news in connection with the Parliamentary election in 2019. Moreover, almost one third were worried about foreign state interventions. Also the Danish public media is concerned about the influence of foreign states on social media content. For example, Denmark blames Russia for the growing skepticism of 5G towers, as evidenced by social media. Poul Madsen, the Executive Editor in Chief at EkstraBladet (a Danish tabloid), complained during the 2019 Parliamentary election that “[Danes] are bombarded with election messaging [valgbudskab] from all sides” on Facebook.
Prepared by Elin Hofverberg
Foreign Law Specialist
 Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste (FE), Efterretningsmæssig Risikovurdering 2017 En aktuel vurdering af forhold i udlandet af betydning for Danmarks sikkerhed (2017), https://perma.cc/8WT9-86QQ (original in Danish), https://perma.cc/7973-U68F (English translation).
 Id. at 12 (original Danish version).
 Id. at 20. Denmark has previously had controversies with Russia, for example there have been reports that Russia hacked into Danish Foreign Ministry accounts in 2017. Martin Borre & Thomas Larsen, Russia Hacked into Danish Defence Emails for Two Years, Intelligence Report Reveals, Berlingske (Apr. 23, 2017), https://perma.cc/GZ2C-LHUH.
 FE, supra note 6.
 Id. at 20 (English translation).
 Id. at 36.
 Id. (translation by author).
 See below, Part II.
 Forbrugerombudsmanden, Gode råd til influenter om skjult reklame, supra note 18.
 § 76 stk. 3 Bekendtgørelse af lov om radio- og fjernsynsvirksomhed [Law on Radio and Television Broadcasts] (LBK nr 248 af 16/03/2019), https://perma.cc/RBP4-6P8E; § 14 Reklamebekendtgørelsen (BEK nr 801 af 21/06/2013), https://perma.cc/2V6J-QZHA. See also Regler for politisk reklame, Kulturministeriet, https://perma.cc/Z9TC-DMLY. Danish industry representatives have argued that political advertisement should be allowed on TV. Det skal være tilladt med politiske reklamer på TV, Dansk Erhverv, https://perma.cc/7BQZ-2J4W.
 See European Union survey in this report.
 EU Code of Practice on Disinformation (2018), https://perma.cc/T9CX-9755; Code of Practice on Disinformation, European Commission (Sept. 26, 2018), https://perma.cc/SE58-9Z3P; Press Release, European Commission, Code of Practice on Disinformation (Sept. 26, 2018; last updated June 17, 2019), https://perma.cc/8MZK-97Z5; see also Jenny Gesley, European Union: Commission Proposes EU-Wide Code of Practice to Combat Fake News Online, Global Legal Monitor (May 11, 2018), https://perma.cc/3QKF-6N7M; Press Release, European Commission, A Europe that Protects: The EU Steps Up Action against Disinformation, (Dec. 5, 2018), https://perma.cc/8Y4R-2HZ4.
 Id. (translation by author).
 §§ 266b, 266c, 267 Straffeloven.
 Lov om ændring af straffeloven [Law on Amending the Penal Code] (LOV nr 675 af 08/06/2017), https://perma.cc/2KT4-XWSN. For more information see Elin Hofverberg, Denmark: Blasphemy Law Repealed, Global Legal Monitor (July 6, 2017), https://perma.cc/85G4-J4EQ.
 § 266b Straffeloven. However, simply burning the Bible or the Koran would not be enough to be convicted of hate speech as defined in § 266b.
 Id. § 266b stk. 2.
 Id. § 266b (translation by author).
 Id. § 266b stk. 2 (translation by author).
 See 4 Michael Hansen Jensen et al., Karnov Lovsamling 6421 (34th. ed. 2018).
 U 2003 1947 Ø, summary available in Jensen et al., supra note 38, at 6420.
 U 2003 2559, summary available in in Jensen et al., supra note 38, at 6420.
 U 2003 1947 Ø, supra note 40.
 § 108 Straffeloven.
 Id. at 3.
 Id. at 8. Compare with UfR2002.936 Ø, where a Danish customs agent was sentenced to four months of imprisonment in 1989 for having provided DDR officials with information on the Danish customs structure.
 Lovforslag nr. L95, supra note 47, at 2.
 Id.; see also Justitsministeriet, Forslag til Lov om ændring af straffeloven, retsplejeloven og forskellige andre love (udkast) (2016-723-0069), https://perma.cc/PQ7X-JKTA, and New Danish Law Can Lead to Substantial Internet Censorship, EDRi (Jan. 25, 2017), https://perma.cc/J89E-LJ7T.
 See 3 Michael Hansen Jensen, Karnovs Lovsamling 5898 (34th ed. 2018).
 Press Release, Justitsministeriet, Styrket værn mod udenlandsk påvirkning af danske valg og demokratiet (Sept. 7, 2018), https://perma.cc/3HST-QBNB; Press Release, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Strengthened Safeguards against Foreign Influence on Danish Elections and Democracy (Sept. 7, 2018), https://perma.cc/WGH9-M2L3.
 Press Release, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, supra note 57.
 European Policies Initiative, Open Society Institute Sofia, Common Sense Wanted – Resilience to Post-truth and Its Predictors in the New Media Literacy Index 2018 at 3 (2018), https://perma.cc/98WR-CF2C.
 Id. at 139.
 Kulturstyrelsen, Specialrapport Media Literacy i en dansk kontekst (2015), https://perma.cc/79M8-HD99; see also New Study: Media Literacy in Denmark, Democracy and Citizenship in Digital Society (Dec. 18, 2015), https://perma.cc/9TXW-6MSB.
 Press Release, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, supra note 57.
 Press Release, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, supra note 57.
 Verified Signatories of the IFCN Code of Principles, supra note 76; Ehsan Faizzad, Facebook blev overrumplet af misinformation – her er løsningen, Journalisten (May 8, 2019), https://perma.cc/8QLJ-6MKU.
Last Updated: 12/30/2020