The EU DisinfoLab is a non-governmental organisation based in Brussels. Our mission – to fight disinformation with innovative methodology and scientific support to the counter-disinformation community.
Realising how online communities were able to disrupt the public discourse, we decided to study their activities and expose them live, starting with the 2017 French elections. This experience, which included a live-debunking of the #MacronLeaks campaign, convinced us of the crucial role that civil society and innovation can play in understanding and countering disinformation in the digital age.
Who are we?
What is our vision?
Our vision is for every citizen to understand the informational context he/she lives in and be less susceptible to attempts of manipulation, especially on social media.
We want our organisation to strengthen the European effort by introducing innovative technological processes to counter disinformation and fostering cooperation between initiatives and organisations working on the issue.
What do we believe in?
We believe in honesty. It is crucial to expose any attempts at disrupting the proper functioning of our societies for democracy to flourish. But it is only possible to do so with transparency and access to relevant data, letting us analyse the mechanisms behind those attempts.
We believe in civil society. We cannot leave it to governments to decide whether information is true or false. Civil society needs to be empowered to lead the counter-disinformation effort, with legislation serving only to support it. Building resilience has to be done from the ground up, focusing on innovative civic initiatives.
We believe in cooperation. Effective solutions to disinformation rely on the cooperation between experts from different fields. Initiatives by journalists, NGOs or academics can play a crucial role if they are encouraged, supported and given the opportunity to collaborate. Lasting resilience can only be built with the cross-expertise inclusion of all stakeholders.
We believe in scientific integrity. All our tools and the findings we publish are based on scientific methodologies. We want all initiatives we support to be governed by the same principle and we encourage them to share, improve on and reproduce their ideas and concepts.
We believe in responsiveness. Long-term studies are highly useful, but a rapid reaction toolkit, capable of exposing and countering disinformation campaigns in real time, is necessary to effectively protect societies from malicious efforts.
And how do we do that?
We provide innovation and scientific support to civil society actors fighting disinformation. We facilitate their collaboration both online and offline – with numerous events. We gather the community, enabling it to develop new solutions and share best practices.
But let’s go back further…
With the emergence of blogs and YouTube, quickly followed by platforms like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, social media became the main content distributors and news sources for modern societies. They allowed for a breakthrough in democracy: anyone could publish any content, potentially reaching millions – a power reserved for traditional media until then.
The business model of those ready-to-share platforms relied on users sharing and consuming as much content as possible – whether democratic societies were able to adapt to these new social possibilities or not.
But from a democratic point of view, this new content market doesn’t proportionally correspond to the political market, with content not being equally produced and distributed by all communities. On one hand, users favour extreme content, which tends to be more shareable, and therefore is promoted by platform algorithms, creating a vicious circle. On the other hand, people tend not to share opinions on controversial topics that they agree with, which translates into non-extreme points of view being heavily underrepresented. Radical individuals and organisations are furthermore more motivated, more active and vocal.
This dynamic has led social scientists to determine social media networks to be optimal incubators for hoaxes and disinformation.
From a scientific standpoint, the process is as follows:
- Online users are allowed unlimited access to a vast amount of non-expert, unverified information. The selection process is bottom up;
- Users select the information according to their belief system and with confirmation bias, ignoring dissenting information, which may even increase polarisation;
- They tend to join polarised groups of like-minded people;
- The more polarisation, the more potential false or manipulative information.
The fight against disinformation poses many challenges, but two stand out the most:
- Emerging disinformation is not detected fast enough to effectively deter its spread;
- The latency between the spread of disinformation and fact-checking is too low.
Our experience in fighting fake news also pointed to another problem: disinformation knows no borders. The field of battle is not restricted to a specific country. It’s international, but never the same. Any countermeasures have to therefore be adapted and localised, while learning from previous experiences in other regions. Considering the speed at which disinformation campaigns evolve, counter-disinformation methodology has to adapt in real time, which can be only done with international cooperation.
We believe that we can offer a remedy to the above issues.
To meet these challenges, we first developed our own methodology, based on Social Network Analysis (SNA), which lets us map social media clusters, monitor and source disinformation. With a combination of specialised algorithms and human expertise, our SNA methodology lets us dynamically visualise an ecosystem. This helps us understand key players, identify clusters and spread of disinformative narratives.
Secondly, to take into account the international scope of the issue, we put emphasis on building partnerships and fostering collaboration between relevant initiatives not only in Europe, but around the globe. We’re gathering experts and organisations, letting them exchange best practices, cooperate and develop new approaches to countering disinformation.
Last but not least, we fear the current legal framework is insufficient and the authorities aren’t up to the challenge. European states are struggling to find solutions, balancing the pressure for concrete action with accusations of limiting free speech. Tech platforms, perceived as a risk to democracy even before the Cambridge Analytica scandal, have to meet privacy concerns while ensuring the integrity of elections, which are nowadays decided largely online.
In this context we want to offer our expertise, provide advocacy on behalf of citizens and civil society, which doesn’t have sufficient influence otherwise. Our aim is to jointly develop a coordinated response, with a legal framework preserving our freedoms while offering a sustainable solution to the disinformation threat.
Gary Machado – Managing Director
Gary is our co-founder, with over a decade of EU affairs experience under his belt. He brings his vast EU bubble expertise to EU DisinfoLab. Gary holds an MA in European Affairs and BA in Economics from universities in France and Scotland.
Alexandre Alaphilippe – Executive Director
After a degree in Communications in his hometown of Clermont-Ferrand, France, Alexandre has worked for 4 years as Chief Digital Officer at the Clermont-Ferrand city hall. Moving in Brussels, he became very vocal on the crucial role of civil society organisations in maintaining democratic values, in 2017 Alexandre co-founded the EU DisinfoLab and is now recognised as an international expert on this field, participating to the Belgian expert group on disinformation and other international events.
Clara Hanot – Advocacy and Fundraising officer
After studies at the College of Europe and an internship in