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Disinfo Update 15/04/2019

Our weekly newsletter on disinformation issues.

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On May 28-29 in Brussels, join the community working against disinformation: case studies, civil society initiatives and tools will be presented. Pre-registrations for EU Disinfolab conference are open. Take a look at the updated agenda.

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They don’t stop to intervene

Recently, media channels have reported numerous cases when foreign entities have tried to influence internal policies in the context of elections. For instance, Alyza Sebenius has revealed how Russian internet trolls appear to be shifting strategy in their efforts to disrupt the 2020 U.S. elections or influence the upcoming elections in Finland. In the context of the presidential elections in Israel, Twitter has also suspended dozens of Hebrew-language accounts run by a strange Chinese religious sect. Even though the Communications Security Establishment’s Report did not refer to any specific threat from Russia, Foreign Minister of Canada has recently expressed her concerns about possible Russian meddling in this October’s elections. Lastly, a BBC investigation has revealed that at least six candidates were offered money by Russians in the lead up to last year’s presidential elections in Madagascar.

UK news

While negotiating the new Brexit deadline which is now set for Halloween 2019, the UK Government Communication Service has published guidance for government departments to tackle disinformation. Nowadays, governments communications troops need to be well equipped for battle in the escalating disinformation war. After the UK government has released the Online Harms White Paper last week, The Guardian has published a critical opinion of six civil liberties organisations’ representatives explaining how the UK White paper would make China’s state censors proud and would give the UK the widest and most prolific internet censorship in an apparently functional democracy.

You can be better, better 

Facebook is taking actions to manage problematic content across the Facebook family of apps. The platform has also announced sweeping changes to its anti-misinformation policies. This includes reducing the reach of groups that repeatedly spread misinformation, exploring the use of crowdsourcing to determine which news outlets users trust most and adding new indicators to Messenger, groups and News Feed to inform users about the content they’re seeing. Meanwhile, in his recent article, Henk van Ess from Bellingcat explains how you can verify content on Instagram using 10 specific tools.

EU elections news and fact checks of the week

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Disinfo Update 08/04/2019

Our weekly newsletter on disinformation issues.

You wish to receive this by email? Subscribe here.

On May 28-29 in Brussels, join the community working against disinformation: case studies, civil society initiatives and tools will be presented. Pre-registrations for EU Disinfolab conference are open. Take a look at the agenda.

Pre-register to EU DisinfoLab conference

En Marche Disinformation: when karma fights back

Last week, French newspaper Le Monde revealed that the communications team of “En Marche”,in close coordination with former Emmanuel Macron advisor Ismaël Emelien,used anonymous accounts to share false claims and manipulated videos to protect French President’s security officer Alexandre Benalla. The latter has been accused (among other things) to beat up demonstrators in Paris in May 2018. Ismaël Emelien justified these actions on TV by saying “you know, on Twitter, it’s the rule”. Eventually, En Marche and the President’s team used similar disinformation techniques to the ones they usually criticise. This story is inconsistent with the strategy of the French government, which pushed for the implementation of the new law against manipulated information during elections period.

French Government vs. Twitter

Last week, Twitter blocked the online campaign (#Ouijevote) of French government inciting people to vote in the upcoming European elections. According to the platform, this was not in compliance with both French law on disinformation adopted in December 2018 (which requires online political campaigns to disclose who paid for them and the amount spent), and Twitter’s own terms and conditions. Few days later, after meeting with government representatives, the social media platform announced being ready to authorise online campaigns encouraging participation in elections in France. It is also important to note that the targeting criteria for this campaign have not been disclosed.

The UK regulating social media platforms

The long awaited Online Harms White Paper” released today by the British government wants the UK to be the safest place to go online. In the framework of the new legislative proposal, a consultation has been launched to gather views on various aspects of the government’s plans for tackling online harms. The new regulation describes a set of online harms and defines a duty of care that internet companies must provide, together with a code of best practices. Moreover, the plan argues that the regulator should have the power to demand information about the impact of algorithms in selecting content for users. The Webinar of EU DisinfoLab with Facebook Tracking Exposed initiative has well developed the logic behind the personalisation of Facebook algorithms

EU elections news and fact checks of the week

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Disinfo Update 01/04/2019

Our weekly newsletter on disinformation issues.

You wish to receive this by email? Subscribe here.

On May 28-29 in Brussels, join the community working against disinformation: case studies, civil society initiatives and tools will be presented. Pre-registrations for EU Disinfolab conference are open. Take a look at the agenda.

Pre-register to EU DisinfoLab conference

Don’t Put In, Put Out Please

Ukrainians, being confronted with Russian interference in domestic politics, have recently received a fake email about the election rules that was sent on behalf of Ukraine’s Minister of Interior. According to the Oxford Internet Institute, Ukraine may be home to “the most globally advanced case of computational propaganda.” In addition, Philip N. Howard in the New York Times has shown how in 2016 Russian ads target extreme right-wing voters in the US and encourage to put all ads in an accessible ad archive.

Should governments have more control on Facebook?

Following the statement of Mark Zuckerberg published in the USA, Germany, Ireland and France,governments should have a more active role in controlling content on social media and the internet. In hisrecent opinion in Washington Post, CEO of Facebook has stated: “Deciding whether an ad is political isn’t always straightforward. Our systems would be more effective if regulation created common standards for verifying political actors.” Specific attention in terms of regulation should be paid to harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability. The firm’s founder and chief executive warned that any advertising not properly registered will be blocked from mid-April.

Money is not enough

The European Commission has more than doubled its spending to 5 million euros to counter Russian interference and is enlarging its staff of analysts dedicated to tracking disinformation. However, according to the opinion of the editorial team of Bloomberg this is far from being enough, and “EU governments should engage citizens and deploy firm legal diplomatic countermeasures to clearly answer to the Russian disinformation strategy.”

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