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Disinfo Update 17/06/2019

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Back from RightsCon

Last week, human rights in the digital era conference RightsCon held it’s 8th edition in Tunis. The EU DisinfoLab had the chance to attend many sessions and to conduct a workshop on building cross-expertise to tackle disinformation. Here are our quick take-aways from RightsCon:

  • Disinformation is definitely a very global issue which calls for international regulation. But at the same time, its field impact could only be reduced by empowering local communities;
  • Disinformation operates differently in various communities. But, similar patterns are rising: the need to improve trust between stakeholders, to develop helpdesk to alert journalists when campaigns are unfolding, to build resilience within civil society;
  • Develop ethical standards for both investigative bodies and facts amplifiers as well as reinforcing clarity of sources of information was also discussed.

This clearly highlights the EU DisinfoLab mission to research and document disinformation cases, help to bridge communities and expertise at a local level while pushing for impactful regulation at the international level.

EU Code of Practice Against Disinformation: “last but not least”

Last Friday, Facebook, Google and Twitter have released their monthly reports on the EU Code of Practice Against Disinformation. It is to note that on 22 May 2019, Microsoft joined the Code of Practice and subscribed to all its commitments. Nevertheless, the trade associations subscribed to the Code, haven’t released their reports since January 2019. In our article you can find the summaries of all the reports of online platforms, as well as the main actions undertaken by the European Commission to tackle disinformation online.

At the same time, European institutions released a joined report on the implementation of the Action Plan Against Disinformation, in the context of the European parliamentary elections. The report does not identify cross-border disinformation campaign from external actors but collected evidence of sustained disinformation activities by Russian sources.

As for the next steps, the assessment by the European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services (ERGA), based on the monthly monitoring reports published by the platforms, will be adopted on 21/06. The Commission underlines that based on this assessment, further actions may be considered to ensure and improve long-term response to the threat.

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  • Digital marketer Mailchimp bans anti-vaccination content, following the similar actions taken by other tech companies including Facebook and Amazon.
  • A fake video of Mark Zuckerberg giving a sinister speech about the power of Facebook has been posted on Instagram. The company previously said it would not remove this type of videos.
  • The research piece ‘Democratic Defence Against Disinformation’ published by Alina Polyakova and Daniel Fried from the Atlantic Council analyses the rapid development of policy responses of governments and social media companies to the challenge of disinformation.
  • After having been breached, WhatsApp said that the hack could come from “a government using surveillance technology, and it may have targeted human rights groups.”
  • Twitter updated its operation information archive with new accounts.
  • For TheNextWeb, today’s problem is not the offensive content that people can seek out on Youtube, but the content we don’t seek out. This article has analysed the presentation of Guillaume Chaslot, the Founder of AlgoTransparency, at the EU DisinfoLab Conference.

Calendar and announcements  

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Disinfo Update 11/06/2019

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A bad week for OSINT

For journalists, fact-checkers and NGO’s using Open-Source information to document disinformation, war crimes and propaganda, last week has just been hell. Just after Michael Bazzell website got hacked, forcing the very useful (and free) IntelTechniques tools to be removed (more info here on Michael’s podcast), Facebook also took a decisive step against OSINT community. 

By cutting off its Graph search tools, Facebook didn’t leave any possibility for the fact-checkers and journalists to search for public posts around keywords or UID. Meanwhile, Facebook also published a paper last week on preserving privacy while fostering meaningful research on elections and democracy. The company is describing some of the approaches it is taking towards external contributions on this issue.

To look at the first impact on the civil society: Nick Waters from Bellingcat had to launch a call for help on Twitter in order to document air strikes in Yemen. Facebook commented its decision saying they “paused” these features because they want to improve keywords search. This last move from Facebook raises many questions around how civil-society can act as a counter-power to assess accountability of malicious actors on platforms. A topic that will surely be heavily discussed at RightsCon this week in Tunis. Our workshop on building cross-expertise to fight disinformation is scheduled on Thursday 2 PM. Feel free to join.

EU vs Disinformation

A mysterious online campaign targeting leading European Commission presidential candidates Weber and Timmermans was featured on Google and Facebook, despite breaching both companies’ rules on political advertising. In fact, social media channels have witnessed numerous disinformation campaigns targeting the EU candidates. We have collected several reports related to the European parliamentary elections on this resources webpage. Additionally, an analysis of BBC Newsnight has illustrated how disinformation was spread in Facebook groups during the EU elections. The EU Observer has published six takeaways on digital disinformation at EU elections. It is to note that the upcoming EU DisinfoLab Webinar with ISD Global will elaborate on “Propaganda and Digital Campaigning in the EU Elections“. Join us on 20th of June at 16:00 CEST following this link.

Falling in the Deepfake

The development of new technologies and software tools does not seem to be always force for good. Today, with the latest examples of deepfake technology, users can add, delete, or change the words coming right out of somebody’s mouth. Scientists have shown that creating realistic fakes is becoming easier every day by designing a new technique to produce AI deepfakes that only requires entering in the text you want the person to say. The Witness Media Lab has explained the 11 things we can do now to prepare for deepfakes. Dr. Regina Rini, referring to the deepfake video of Nancy Pelosi in an opinion piece for the New York Times says: “You should only trust a recording if you would trust the word of the person producing it.”

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Calendar and announcements