May 16, 2023

EU DisinfoLab, together with a number of other counter-disinformation civil society organisations, sent a letter to the European Commission Vice-President Vera Jourová, Commissioners Thierry Breton and Didier Reynders, asking to support and invest in those who defend democracy from disinformation and are working in an increasingly hostile environment.

Dear Vice-President Vera Jourová, dear Commissioners Thierry Breton and Didier Reynders, 

As members of the counter-disinformation community, we are writing to you at a critical juncture in the fight against disinformation and the wider sustainability of the counter-disinformation community in Europe. In the last few years, significant progress has been made in the fight against disinformation largely thanks to the role of the EU counter-disinformation community. Recent examples include the response to the surge of disinformation around COVID-19 and crucial work to combat Russia’s disinformation campaign to build support for the war in Ukraine. There is strong evidence that collectively the efforts of the counter-disinformation community have had a real impact on the regulatory agenda and on increased action by tech platforms to demonetise harmful content. Now all these efforts are under threat.  

The counter-disinformation community is increasingly being targeted by hostile campaigns seeking to undermine our work. From online harassment and cyber-threats which pressure our partners to cut funding, our community is being targeted by those seeking to slow our efforts to protect citizens from the harmful real-world impacts of disinformation.

In the US, the sector has endured sustained attacks from various groups which are targeting civil society organisations that are tackling disinformation. In light of the “Qatargate” scandal in Europe the NGO sector is also being targeted by the very institutions which have not enforced their own ethical standards. Among the European fact-checking organizations alone, 90% report having experienced smear campaigns and online abuse. 

As well as posing a real threat to regulators and the European Commission in ensuring effective enforcement of the Digital Services Act (DSA), these concerted attacks are undermining efforts to defund the business model for harmful content, and the fight against disinformation in general.

The aim of the current threats is to delegitimize the counter-disinformation community, making “disinformation” a code for censorship and in turn make it toxic for the community to touch and defund the disinformation sector. The undermining of the counter- disinformation community will have consequences for the EU and more globally in implementing the most advanced reforms. Reforms that would reduce the harms caused by online disinformation.

As a continuously developing and growing movement we want to move from being a poorly resourced and vulnerable community to one that can withstand any attacks and harassment that disinformation actors are throwing at us. This will ensure we can continue being a strong and valuable partner in the development and enforcement of existing and future regulation.  

A non-partisan approach through strengthened cooperation with international allies is needed to address these threats and harms without enabling censorship or suppression of freedoms of speech. This will require:

  • An emergency legal fund to support the counter-disinformation community against erroneous attacks and a backlash from strategic lawsuits aimed at preventing or penalising organisations doing this public interest work against disinformation. 
  • A dedicated EU budget line, core-funding, allocated to the counter-disinformation community to ensure its sustainability and viability. This is increasingly important considering upcoming national elections across the EU and European Parliamentary elections in 2024 where the full support of civil society will be immensely important in addressing disinformation content.
  • Support and resources to help the counter-disinformation community to protect themselves against other threats such as online violence, defamation and cyberattacks. 
  • Effective enforcement of the DSA: which places and enforce duties of care to detect and moderate or demonetise disinformation.

Without these necessary reforms and resources, there is a significant risk that dangerous disinformation actors prevail.

We kindly ask you to take our recommendations as an immediate call to action, especially in the light of the upcoming Democracy of Defence Package, and are requesting an urgent meeting with you to work together to make this a reality. 

Yours sincerely

  • EU DisinfoLab
  • Citizen D / Državljan D 
  • Debunk EU 
  • Global Disinformation Index 
  • Alliance4Europe
  • #ShePersisted
  • The Institute for Strategic Dialogue 
  • Lie Detectors 
  • European Fact-Checking Standards Network 
  • AI Forensics 
  • Graham Brookie, Senior Director, Atlantic Council Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab)
  • Mattia Caniglia, Associate Director, Atlantic Council Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab)