Good day, Disinfo Update readers,
Welcome to your bi-weekly newsletter, providing you with a selection of news, events and announcements in the disinformation area.
Amongst today’s selection of news, you’ll get insights as to the latest developments in the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA), including France’s U-turn on media exemption. On the must-read list: Twitter’s API access tiers reveal, and our research team’s March fact-checked disinformation trends, with a specific focus on AI generated content. In terms of events, we’ll host a webinar on Foreign Information Manipulation and Interference (FIMI) on 13 April with Nicolas Hénin – registration link below!
A final tip: we’ve probably all known that feeling – a mix of uncertainty and confusion -, in front of an unfamiliar, new term in the disinformation field. If it were to happen again, you’ll hopefully remember that we’ve developed a disinformation glossary (available here). Gathering 150+ entries with snap definitions and concrete examples, we hope you’ll find this accessible tool helpful!
Enjoy the read!
Disinfo news & updates
- New API plans. After announcing in February that it would be changing its API rules, on March 29, Twitter finally disclosed its new API access tiers. In this thread, the social media platform details the three access levels: free, basic, and enterprise, with more information on prices, read and write limits. The Coalition for Independent Technology Research (CITR), an alliance seeking to advance, defend, and sustain the right to study the impact of technology on society, which had urged Twitter to maintain free API access for researchers back in February, now warns against the dangers of monetised API, which will “devastate public interest research”.
- Persisting. Despite the Western bans on state-owned outlets RT and Sputnik, Russian propaganda continues to spread in Spanish, a language that counts 500 million speakers globally, on TV and social media.
- U-turn from France on the media exemption in the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA). Contrary to its position in the Digital Services Act (DSA), where it went against it, France has now seemingly decided to support the media exemption in the EMFA proposal, and is asking large platforms to give media 24 hours to respond to a decision before any suspension or visibility restriction. Paris, however, proposes restricting this provision to “news and current affairs” media and suggests involving the Board if no “amicable solution” is found in the case of repetitive restrictions or takedowns, among other things. France’s U-turn from the DSA position echoes similar messages of other member states such as Germany, Italy and Portugal (to name a few) and goes in line with even more drastic stay-up obligations also being pushed in the European Parliament. The vote on IMCO draft opinion will likely take place 28-29 June 2023. The draft report of the lead CULT Committee is still to see the daylight (expected very soon), and the deadline for amendments is at the beginning of May.
- While media exemption in the EMFA would significantly undermine the potential positive impact on the fight against disinformation and other harmful content through the DSA, we continue raising awareness about the importance of this landmark legislation. Last week, we travelled to a conference organised by the Hybrid CoE and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland to talk about the DSA and disinformation (thanks for having us!). Curious to learn more? Check out this DSA session from our 2022 Conference and this webinar on the DSA user guide.
- Defence of Democracy Package. The European Commission has launched the call for evidence on the Defence of Democracy Package, which was announced last year during the Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s State of the Union speech. The main objective of this package is to tackle foreign interference. However, there are a number of worried voices that the Directive, which is a part of the envisioned package, might end up being a European version of the Foreign Agents Registration Act in the US, which essentially labels civil society organisations as foreign actors, coming with many possible negative implications for the civic space. You have until 13 April to provide your feedback on the Defence of Democracy Package.
What we’re reading or listening to
- Pro-Russian disinfo going global. This DFR Lab study looks into fifty-six Telegram channels over three networks, which targeted users in twenty countries and ten languages with pro-Kremlin narratives.
- 2030 Cybersecurity threats. In its latest report on cybersecurity threats for 2030, the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) listed “Advanced disinformation and information operations (IO) campaigns” as #2 future cyber threat. Insightful to comprehend the challenges to emerge by 2030, the potential actors, methods and impact.
- The voices of civil society. With the rapid growth of the digital space and upcoming European legislations like the Digital Markets Act, there is a pressing need for legislators and regulators to adapt to the emerging regulatory tools for these new contexts and markets. This Article 19 podcast, “Momentum is building – so where now?”, looks into how we can ensure that, beyond states and businesses, the voice of civil society is heard.
EU DisinfoLab March trends
In March, we have seen some red threads in the three countries we monitor, with a lot of hoaxes circulating around the war in Ukraine and around new events. But across topics, what caught our researchers’ eyes was the abundance of AI generated content, with fake AI generated photographs of prominent figures such as Pope Francis or Donald Trump being arrested, or this false picture of Vladimir Putin kneeling before Xi Jinping. Although in some cases the creators made it clear that the content was not real, some photos circulated unchecked and unlabeled on various channels, highlighting the challenge this technology poses to disinformation.
Highlights from our March monitoring of fact-checked disinformation in France, Germany, and Spain include:
- In France, the war in Ukraine, COVID-19, and the much-disputed project of pension law reform have been the main events triggering disinformation narratives. We’re seeing a massive trend around the rise of generative AI, with dozens of articles published by fact-checkers, either tutorials on how to flag content produced by AI, or actual cases. Six cases of fabricated content were debunked: four of them were AI-generated pictures, including a photo of Emmanuel Macron sitting on a pile of rubbish or a viral picture of a man being dragged by police officers.
- In Germany, the war in Ukraine was again the main disinformation topic in March, with hoaxes mainly criticising or ridiculing the delivery of Leopard tanks to Ukraine. The economic crisis around Silicon Valley Bank led to conspiracy theories and economic alarm in March. Finance advisers on YouTube warned about the “Great Reset” and about expropriation to citizens, while, on a more humoristic note, a hoax circulated claiming that the Simpsons had predicted the crisis. Other impactful news events, such as a fatal shooting in a Jehovah’s Witness building or the killing of a 12-old-years girl at the hands of two other girls, were thematised in hoaxes in Germany.
- In Spain, the disinformation surrounding the war in Ukraine has strongly targeted Zelensky, with hoaxes claiming that he has a double or that he has fled and lives a rich life. Disinformation about climate change has continued to use “15-minute cities” as a claim. This project, part of an alleged totalitarian globalism, would be an imitation of the Warsaw ghetto and it has been imposed in Gran Canaria and Canada. All fake. Misleading polarisation content was abundant in the framework of the regional elections. Hoaxes about the new trans law and to attack the LGTBQ+ collective.
The latest from EU DisinfoLab
- Lost in translation? With a constantly evolving terminology, we might all be, at times, at a loss in the disinformation field. Here is a glossary that will be helpful to confidently navigate the area!
- FIMI Webinar. Curious to take a closer look to what is at stake when referring to the “FIMI” acronym? Our researcher, Nicolas Hénin, will host a webinar on 13 April on “FIMI: Towards a European redefinition of foreign interference” (14:00 to 15:00 CEST).
- ICYMI. Watch the replay from the webinar on “Monetizing Misogyny”, the latest #ShePersisted study. During this event, Lucina Di Meco, Co-Founder of #ShePersisted, Anna Fejős, Researcher at the Institute for Sociology, Center for Social Sciences, Budapest, and Maria Giovanna Sessa, Senior Researcher at EU DisinfoLab, zoomed in on the role of the media in spreading online hate and disinformation in Italy & Hungary.
- 13 April: Join Nicolas Hénin, Researcher at EU DisinfoLab, for a webinar on the topic of Foreign Information Manipulation Interference (FIMI) (14:00 – 15:00 CEST). Register here.
- 17 April: The second edition of the EDMO BELUX Lunch Lectures, titled “To the front line with OSINT”, will be with Brecht Castel, a journalist and fact-checker for Knack magazine and an expert in OSINT (13:00-14:00 CEST). Register now here.
- 20 April: Interested in learning more about the latest best practices in Open Source Intelligence research? Join this webinar with Alexandre Alaphilippe, Executive Director of EU DisinfoLab and Amaury Lesplingart, CTO of Check First, to discover the new ObSINT Guidelines (14:30-15:30 CEST). Register here.
- 21-23 April: Apply to join Bellingcat’s April 2023 Hackathon and increase the accessibility of open source tools.
- 16 May: The May edition of the EDMO BELUX Lunch Lectures (13:00-14:00 CEST) will feature Eline Severs, assistant professor at the Department of Political Science, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB). Sign up here.
- 29 June: Save the date for this conference by the European Commission and research projects AI4media, I4Trust, TITAN and vera.ai on generative AI and disinformation. More details to follow soon!
- Access Now has four roles to fill in within their communications department. More here.
- Bellingcat is hiring a Tech Community Facilitator.
- Democracy Reporting International is looking for a Digital Democracy Programme Associate.
- Graphika is looking for a Senior Backend Engineer.
- Tech Policy Press is hiring a Community Engagement Producer.
- The BBC is hiring an Executive Editor, Forensic Journalism Hub.
- The Directorate General for Human Rights and Rule of Law of the Council of Europe is looking for a Programme Manager.
- The European Partnership for Democracy (EPD) is recruiting an Events and Communications Traineeship and a Communications and Events Officer.