14/09/2017: Brussels DisinfoLab

Following our success in France, where our experts successfully analysed and debunked numerous fake news stories, most notably the infamous « Macron Leaks », we organised a mini-conference in Brussels, gathering major European disinformation experts and stakeholders. The meeting brought together representatives of EU and international institutions (EEAS, European Commission, NATO), tech giants (Google), academics and other organisations interested in fighting fake news. The meeting gave birth to our NGO, the EU DisinfoLab.

1) Context

2) The Disinfo Lab

3) Sep 14 : A framework to fight Fake News?

4) Next Steps

Context

In the past years, misinformation has become one of the most discussed subjects in the western countries. From the unexpected Brexit referendum results to Mr Trump election with high suspicion of foreign interferences through the growth of euro-sceptical movements and parties in French elections and the daily disinformation campaigns led on the Ukrainian Territory, we’ve seen many manifestations of different attempts to manipulate the information.

Whether it is Fake News (on its primary definition meaning the purpose of actively spread things that did not happen, for commercial or political reasons) or propaganda/misinformation campaigns or operations in order to deliberately disrupt the good working of liberal democracies, disinformation is now identified as one of the central threats, open democracies are suffering from.

For instance, sourcing techniques have been used by Saper Vedere during the French elections to understand the online links and interactions between Kremlin-lead media outlets like Russia Today and Sputnik and euroscepticals movements like the Front National. Sourcing has also be used as an efficient technique to debunk live the #MacronLeaks fake scandal and show to media and the general public the spread by far-right movement both in the United States and in Europe.

There is a lack of information sharing and little of mutual comprehension of every player stakes. Some online communities are now trying to emerge like the DisInfoHub of the Beacon project (driven by IRI) or mailing lists from Data&Society. Events and conferences are also multiplying as this issue is becoming central in the public sphere, but if they might be a good place to meet and present, they do not encourage the direct cooperation between different stakeholders.

There is a need for an initiative that could be able to gather all actions, in an offline platform. Our goal is to set up the Disinfo Lab as this platform and we’re looking for funds to launch. We are currently thinking for cross-funding opportunities to finance all the activities.

The Brussels Disinfo Lab

The DisinfoLab project aims to be at the crossroad of the different initiatives conducted by all stakeholders on the Disinformation issue. The Lab is at the same time:

  • an identified civil society centre to show and exhibit local and European/global initiatives that could become a hub able to bridge civil society actions (local initiatives, media literacy, etc.) with democratic governments and European institutions needs to analyse and counter hybrid threats
  • a place where the disinfo community can build itself through the regular meeting/workshops of all the different stakeholders where they can physically gather, work and develop new ideas, products and services,
  • A working place for stakeholders willing to be active against disinformation campaign (analysts, academics, data scientists, etc.) with training rooms to be able to share the techniques with NGOs, stakeholders

Our goal is to collectively develop a methodology and new techniques/process that can be shared with the whole community to fight disinformation, taking into account the specificities of every country media environment.

Our first outreach activity – A framework to fight Fake news : 14 September 2017

Next steps

After this event, the Brussels DisinfoLab is looking forward to the next steps:

  • To create a Slack (online tool) that could help all stakeholders to share information quickly between them.
  • To follow disinformation during the Italian general elections which will take place in 2018.

Regarding this last project: 

After France, the United Kingdom and Germany, Italy will be the next large European country to organise general elections in the forthcoming months. The rise of anti-EU and anti-immigrant movements/political parties combined to suspicions of Russian interferences in the democratic process put the Italian election at stakes.

The Italian elections have to be held before May 2018. All political observers are keen to admit they will take place in the beginning of 2018 (February-March), once the new electoral law is passed. To be efficient, our methodology requires us to start the ecosystem identification and the monitoring before the official launch of the campaign, so we could monitor movements and activity before the start and notice if there are shifts of narrative within the propaganda networks.

This is a summary of the actions we intend to take:

  • Identify the communities spreading misinformation in Italy, based on the work done by Saper Vedere before the French elections. We can also use our techniques to identify journalist and supportive communities that could help to spread fact-checked information.
  • Built a multidisciplinary team working together to fight misinformation, and by doing so, create a hub for various stakeholders to meet, share and do. With this in mind, we received help from Roberto Marchetto, a native Italian developer who already worked with the European External Action Service, and who is building a network of influential Italian journalists interested in fighting fake news.
  • “Sourcing”, which is the ability to track, measure and analyse how information spreads on social media and being able to go back to the source of the information. By using sourcing, Italian journalists, NGO and public organisations would be able to understand where disinformation campaigns come from and to whom they spread, and then to be able to counter them efficiently.

To download the full summary of the conference, with input from all the speakers, click HERE 

 

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