September 28, 2020
October 2, 2020

#Disinfo2020: A Recap

If you were able to join us during the week, we would be very grateful for your feedback. Please take a minute to fill out our event survey.

Check out the session replays on our YouTube channel!

EU DisinfoLab held its annual conference on disinformation between September 28 and October 2. Over the week, we approached the issue of dis- and misinformation from many angles: from the advertising-based business model that fuels digital disinformation, to the regulatory challenges of moderating disinformative content while protecting freedom of expression. Beyond a Brussels perspective on EU policy, this event gathered experts from diverse disciplines and involved deep discussion of international issues like the Covid-19 infodemic and election transparency and integrity. The conference, held on Webex, was accessible only to pre-registered participants and media. Over 900 people registered for the event, and we had over 450 attendees on the first day alone. 

Day 1

The co-founder of Sleeping Giants, Nandini Jammi, delivered the conference opening keynote, on how the Ad-Tech business model, particularly programmatic advertising, allows disinformation to thrive on social media platforms, even while it harms brands themselves.

It’s much too easy to profit from disinformation. In the next session. Camille Françoise, CEO of Graphika, interviewed Mirko Ceselkoski, the internet marketing consultant and ‘fake news’ strategist famed for running fake news political marketing campaigns from Northern Macedonia during the 2016 US election.

The day continued with presentations of open source investigative research into foreign influence campaigns. EU DisinfoLab’s Roman Adamczyk presented the team’s research on EP Today, and how an organization created 265 fake media outlets to promote Indian interests and to influence policymakers. Camille Francois and colleague Léa Ronzaud outlined a series of operations which used fake accounts and documents to create conflict between Western countries, particularly the Ukraine. Foreign information operations can originate from a wide range of actors — this makes attribution very delicate, and deep investigative analysis indispensable. 

Read more: Uncovered: 265 coordinated fake local media outlets serving Indian interests

Day 2

Day two honed in on content distribution and platform design. Neuroscientist Albert Moukheiber explained the ways that online platforms take advantage of our cognitive biases in order to maximize the time we spend online. 

To address this problem, we first need to understand how content is ranked and curated. The next session aimed to open the black box of content distribution mechanisms and probed the business models beneath this architecture. “We need to reduce the asymmetry of information,” asserted Mathias Vermeulen, Public Policy Director at AWO, who led this discussion between Clare Melford, Executive Director of the Global Disinformation Index, Guillaume Chaslot, Founder of Algotransparency, and Matthias Spielkamp, Cofounder and Executive Director of Algorithm Watch.

Day 3

Content moderation raises difficult questions for our freedom of expression. How should we address humour and satire, for instance, which may be used to misinform and to incite hate? On Day 3, Dr. Emmanuel Choquette from the University of Montreal gave us an academic perspective from the Quebecois context. 

In Brussels, the regulatory debate is well underway with the Digital Services Act. Paolo Cesarini, Head of Unit for Media Convergence and Social Media, European Commission DG CONNECT chaired the next session, joined by Lubos Kuklis, Board Member of the European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services (ERGA), Benoit Loutrel, Former head of the Social Networks Task Force of the French government, and Gabrielle Guillemin, Senior Legal Officer at Article 19. The panelists debated what regulation should look like, and how such regulation should be overseen by civil society. 

Day 4

Impossible to hold an online conference on disinformation in 2020 and not discuss Covid-19. The pandemic and infodemic have so deeply altered the disinformation landscape, both the problems we are facing, and the tools we are using to face them. On Day 4, we were joined by Clément Wolf, Global Public Policy Lead, Information Integrity, at Google and David Agranovich, Global Threat Disruption Lead at Facebook who outlined the measures – new and old – that these companies are taking to address dis and misinformation in the context of the pandemic. Dr. Trisha Meyer, Professor of Digital Governance and Participation, followed this panel with a transversal research perspective on what social media platforms have done to promote authoritative content and combat mis- and disinformation, as well as critical questions about the enforcement and effectiveness of these changes.

Read more: How platforms are responding to the ‘disinfodemic’

Civil society has been working tirelessly since the outbreak of COVID-19 on the front lines of this infodemic. Dr. Julie Posetti, Global Director of Research, at the International Center for Journalists led aconversation between Dr. Claire Wardle, Co-founder of First Draft, Alexandre Alaphilippe, Executive Director of EU DisinfoLab, and Hubert Au, Researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute on lessons learned so far, as well as the many challenges that slie ahead, particularly in terms of capacity and support.

Day 5

The last day of the conference looked ahead to elections on the horizon and rising concerns about the integrity in our online information space. Diana Wallis, former Member and Vice President of the European Parliament and EU DisinfoLab Board Member interviewed Vice President Vera Jourová on the European Union’s plans to address disinformation and safeguard the integrity of European democracies in light of the forthcoming European Democracy Action Plan.

The concluding panel gathered Susan Morgan, Consultant and Advisor to EU DisinfoLab, Rafael Goldzweig, Research Coordinator at Democracy Reporting International, Julian Jaursch, Project Director at Stiftung Neue Verantwortung, Marie-Helene Boulanger, Head of Unit for Union citizenship rights and free movement at the European Commission DG JUST and Rast’o Kuzel, Executive Director of Memo98. The panelists remind us that this is a long term political problem; we need to think beyond the scope of electoral periods and political advertisements, to protect democratic processes and debate in this new landscape. 

As the conference came to a close, Executive Director Alexandre Allaphilippe .recalled the importance of this communitg during such a challenging year: “The success of our work can only be collective.”

Many thanks to all our attendees and participants. We hope to see you next year! In the meantime, stay tuned for future webinars, workshops, and gatherings.