Dear Disinfo Update readers,

Welcome to the latest edition of Disinfo Update, your avenue for staying abreast of the latest developments in the world of disinformation.

Fresh off our strategic retreat, we’re buzzing with energy and ideas for the months (and years) ahead. Building on the success of #Disinfo2023, we’re thrilled to introduce our upcoming webinars. Over the next few weeks, we’ll cover some of the most pertinent current topics (from election disinformation, Digital Services Act and gendered disinformation to Doppelganger) and feature experts from our incredible community. Scroll down to check out the full list of webinars!

A gentle reminder: The open call for our annual conference remains open (but only for a while longer). We eagerly await more innovative ideas for the content of #Disinfo2024!

And there’s more: Hot off the press, two brand new factsheets! Dive into the world of research and content moderation policies with two new factsheets focusing on TikTok and YouTube, and explore our entire series and topic-specific factsheets on platforms’ policies.

After a promising start, we’re gearing up to continue this exciting journey called 2024, and we can’t wait for you to join us!

Disinfo news & updates

  • Portal Kombat. French counter-disinformation agency Viginum exposed a new Russian information operation targeting France, Germany, Poland and Ukraine. Recycling Russian agency disinformation content, the network aims at undermining the Ukrainian government. Read the technical report here.
  • Weimar Triangle. Following the Portal Kombat exposure, France, Germany and Poland are re-activating the Weimar Triangle, a diplomatic discussion format between the three countries that will also focus on European security, including countering foreign interferences.
  • A threat to public health. This op-ed from researchers Stephen Lewandowsky, Sander Van Der Linden and Andy Normal highlights the threat of disinformation to democracy and public health, and its problematic nature in shaping public opinion on critical issues like vaccines, climate change, and historical events.
  • Foreign interference. After examining Russian foreign interference activities in France, the French Parliament will establish a new committee to investigate foreign interference in the media. This initiative follows the repercussions of the Forbidden Stories revelations, which highlighted how TV news segments have disseminated disinformation aligned with Qatari interests.  Read the full article here (in French).
  • Access to X data. This blog dissects the concerns about the transparency of X (formerly Twitter) under the EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA), particularly regarding Article 40.12 – despite some steps towards compliance, there’s a lack of clarity on whether the platform has granted researchers access to the necessary data. Enforcing the DSA effectively is critical to safeguarding democratic processes, especially in a year with many elections.
  • Cache-cache. Google is retiring the ‘cache’ links from its search results – a feature that allowed users to view webpages as stored by Google. This tool was useful for various reasons, including researching offline pages and finding deleted posts on social networks. Google cited improved internet reliability as a reason for this decision, and suggested possible future integration with the Internet Archive to track webpage changes.
  • Causing harm = criminal. The UK government introduced new offences under the Online Safety Act, criminalising the intentional distribution of false information online aiming to cause physical or mental harm, as part of broader efforts to combat online abuse, including cyberflashing and epilepsy-trolling.
  • Paperwall. CitizenLab exposed a network of dummy media outlets targeting dozens of EU countries with pro-Beijing narratives. The information operation, named PAPERWALL, is attributed to a Chinese PR company.
  • Fighting disinformation in Central Europe. As a response to challenges of disinformation, Google News Initiative and StopFake launch a project to share Ukraine’s fact-checking experience in order to contribute capacity building of fact-checkers in countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Training sessions developed by the StopFake team in cooperation with local partners will be conducted in Central and Eastern Europe.
  • Labelling AI-generated content. Meta is expanding the labelling of AI-generated imagery on its social media platforms to cover some synthetic imagery that’s been created using generative AI tools from other companies. Until now, only imagery generated by Meta’s own tools had been labelled. In the case of video and audio content, which is more difficult to determine as AI-generated, users are requested to self-label the content. Failure to do so may result in penalties.
  • Farming & climate change. This DeSmog article uncovers a climate science denier network behind the ‘No Farmers, No Food’ social media campaign, which has gained over 50,000 followers on X in the two weeks since its launch. The network has been accused of hijacking rural concerns through the campaign, claiming that ‘farming is being sacrificed on the altar of net zero.’
  • AI & elections. Indonesia’s upcoming general elections serve as a critical test for the use of generative AI in political campaigning. This involves AI-generated content that targets young voters, including cartoons of candidates and AI-driven social media strategies. The situation has prompted discussions about AI’s role in politics, the regulatory challenges it poses, and its potential global impact on future elections.
  • Robocalls. In January, voters in the US received AI-generated calls impersonating President Biden, advising them not to vote in the primary. The calls were traced to Texas-based Life Corporation, a company previously implicated in disinformation, and transmitted through a telecom provider Lingo. Both entities have received cease and desist orders, and legal actions are being explored.
  • Political? Slovakia’s government is planning to exclude NGOs from its disinformation countermeasures. The new strategy, aimed at addressing “politicisation”, raises concerns about the inclusivity and effectiveness of its approach in a region already facing significant disinformation challenges.

Brussels corner

  • Public consultation on DSA guidelines for election integrity. The European Commission is seeking public input on draft Digital Services Act (DSA) guidelines for providers of Very Large Online Platforms (VLOPs) and Very Large Online Search Engines (VLOSEs) on the mitigation of systemic risks for electoral processes. Submit your response by 7 March.
  • GDPR compliant? Following a detailed investigation into ChatGPT’s data practices, Italy’s data protection authority has accused OpenAI of violating EU privacy laws. The heart of the issue lies in the legality of data collection and processing for AI model training, with concerns about compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and the outcome of the case could have far-reaching implications for AI operations in Europe​​.
  • AI Act. The EU’s AI Act, aimed at regulating artificial intelligence, has cleared its final major hurdle with  a vote in the Committee of Permanent Representatives of the Member States in the EU (COREPER). The Act will prohibit certain AI uses, like social scoring, impose governance on high-risk applications, and enforce transparency on AI apps. The European Parliament will now have a final vote on it.

Our webinars

Our webinars on a wide range of timely topics give voice to experts from our valued community. Sign up for the upcoming ones, and watch the recordings of the past ones!

Watch the replay!

What we’re reading

  • Evolving landscape of antisemitism. The report ‘The Fragility of Freedom: Online Holocaust Denial and Distortion’ by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) reflects on the surge in antisemitism and Holocaust denial following the 7 October attack.
  • Lose-Lose? The key themes emerging from the freshly released Munich Security Report 2024 include rising global anxiety about artificial intelligence, concerns over cyberattacks, and climate change returning to the top of global perceived risks. The report also highlights a heightened sense of unease regarding disinformation campaigns, as the world approaches a crucial election year.

This week’s recommended read

Raquel Miguel, Senior Researcher at EU DisinfoLab, recommends reading this thorough report published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: “Countering Disinformation Effectively. An Evidence-Based Policy Guide”.

The report provides a comprehensive overview of one of the main shortcomings in the fight against disinformation: the search for effective solutions. While awareness of the problem has increased in recent years – extensive research has been published on the subject and disinformation has been recognised as the paramount global threat facing the world in 2024 – the responses to the challenge remain a territory where much more needs to be done. What strategies can be employed against disinformation campaigns? And more importantly, what are the most effective ones? This report, authored by Jon Bateman and Dean Jackson, draws core insights from empirical research and real-world data on ten diverse kinds of policy interventions. The outcome is an evidence-based guide to some of the major proposals for how democratic governments, platforms, and other stakeholders can counter disinformation.

The latest from EU DisinfoLab

  • Platform policies. We’re thrilled to introduce two brand new factsheets as part of our ongoing series that dives into the realm of disinformation on major platforms, and dissects the research and content moderation policies linked to disinformation on TikTok and YouTube. You can find all factsheets in this series, as well as our topic-specific factsheets on platforms’ policies, here.
  • Webinars, webinars, webinars. On 6 February, we launched our 2024 webinars with a deep dive into an investigation into a large-scale paid ad campaign on Facebook, which aimed to sabotage Moldova’s aspirations for EU membership. You can now watch the replay here! And we’re just getting started – in the coming weeks, we’ll explore an array of other fascinating topics, featuring insights from esteemed experts in our community. Check out the full list of our upcoming webinars here!

Events & announcements

  • 15 February: The MEDIAdelcom event ‘Monitoring Mediascapes for Democratic Communication in Europe: Meeting the Challenges of an Election Year’ will bring together researchers, academics, and media representatives to discuss the future of media and its role in democracy. Register to attend in person, or watch the event online.
  • 20 February: The webinar “Election Era 2024: Navigating the Digital Divide – AI’s Dance Between Threats and Defenses” aims to explore how artificial intelligence is reshaping the integrity of elections globally, with case studies from Argentina, Bangladesh, Slovakia, Taiwan, and Turkey. Register here.
  • 22 February: The EDMO online training session “The Economics of Disinformation: trends, mechanisms and actors” will explore the economic aspects of disinformation, providing insights into the latest trends, mechanisms, and key players. Apply here by 14 February.
  • 26-27 February: The EDMO Scientific Conference will take place in Amsterdam, under the theme of ‘Navigating the Complex Landscape of Disinformation’.
  • 26-28 February: Compiler, a new tech policy newsroom, will be celebrating its launch with a series of live journalism events, including talks, networking opportunities, and a mix of art and music. Sign up for the ‘Compiler Barcelona Edition Pop-Up’ here.
  • 27 February – 1 March: Media Literacy Matters, The European Digital and Media Literacy Conference, will bring professionals, educators, and policymakers together in Brussels for a three-day event on digital and media literacy.
  • 12-14 March: The European Broadcasting Union’s (EBU’s) annual DataTech 2024 seminar for practitioners in data and AI for media will take place in Geneva.
  • 13-14 May: The 2024 EDMO Annual Conference will take place in Brussels in May. Save the date!
  • 25-26 September: The fifth edition of the JRC DISINFO workshop, organised by the European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC), will take place in Ispra, Italy, with focus on lessons from the European Parliament Elections, exploring also the role of generative AI in disinformation. Save the date!
  • 9-10 October 2024: The EU DisinfoLab 2024 Annual Conference will take place on 9-10 October 2024 in Riga, Latvia. Submit your ideas for #Disinfo2024 programme by 25 February!
  • Funding for counter-disinformation projects. European Media & Information Fund (EMIF) yearly calls are open. Submit your proposals for projects working against disinformation in Europe focusing on investigations into disinformation dynamics, research for a transparent and resilient information ecosystem, or media and information literacy by 29 February.
  • Calling media leaders. The 2024 International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) Knight Fellowships are open for applications until 29 February. This year’s focus includes AI in journalism, support for journalists in exile, combating disinformation (especially around elections), and pioneering climate change reporting.