Hey there!

We hope this edition of our Disinfo Update finds you well, and that you’re ready to explore the latest news and events from the disinformation field from across the world.

First, we’re bursting with excitement as we finally present the long-awaited draft programme for our EU DisinfoLab Annual Conference!

In this edition of the newsletter, we also touch upon the topic of social media (algorithms and humans) meddling with politics, and re-revisit the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA) media exemption. The presently omnipresent AI is also, unsurprisingly, present.

Oh, and there’s that breaking news, too: Doppelganger is back again, stretching its tendrils to the unlikeliest corners of the digital world. Scroll down for more ⬇️

Happy reading and until next time!

Doppelganger update

French government website impersonated. Links with other Russian disinfo campaigns revealed.

French Ministry of Foreign Affairs broke the news today (in French), exposing new elements linked to Doppelganger, an ongoing Russian information operation running in Europe and beyond.
Elements published today by French authorities show that despite being revealed nine months ago, the operation is still ongoing and broader than initially thought. In addition to Meta’s initial attribution to two Russian companies (Structura and Social Design Agency), Doppelganger/RRN is now also linked to Russian individuals such as Mikhaïl Andreevitch Tchekomasov. The report has been prepared by Viginum, the French public authority monitoring digital foreign interferences and is available here (in French). 
New elements show, for instance, a very recent advertisement campaign on Meta impersonating the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. This specific campaign consisted of pushing fabricated documents claiming a tax on all commercial transactions would soon be implemented and will serve to support Ukraine.
On top of continued media impersonations, authorities are now considering Doppelganger as part of a broader information operation that includes news websites like RRN (Reliable Recent News / Reliable Russian News), WarOnFakes and other operations targeting French online influencers (article in French).
Some of the responsible actors mentioned today, and others such as InfoRos, have already been exposed for months in Europe without any meaningful sanctions imposed nor legal investigations being opened.
We welcome such an exposure, which shows how disinformation campaigns can now unfold in the online space. But EU DisinfoLab will be looking at what measures will be taken to hold accountable the perpetrators and enablers of this operation.

Disinfo news & updates

  • Shame. In addition to stifling the livelihood of indie apps and startups that relied on accessing the data through the API to fuel innovative experiences, Twitter and Reddit’s exorbitant API costs are now denting the armour of the counter-disinformation community, leaving the interwebs a duller place. Mashable reports here.
  • Disinformation/-crimination. This article highlights the alarming threat that disinformation and hate speech pose to the LGBTQIA+ community and democracy as a whole. From far-right leaders to discriminatory laws, the article sheds light on the persistent targeting of LGBTQIA+ individuals that leads to increased violence and marginalisation, and emphasises the importance of countering disinformation and being allies to create a more inclusive and democratic society.
  • Troubling endorsements. Last week, Elon Musk hosted a Twitter Spaces event featuring Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the controversial anti-vaccine activist and Democratic presidential candidate. This followed Jack Dorsey, the former CEO and founder of Twitter, expressing his support for Kennedy’s presidential candidacy. Worrisome.
  • Troubling trajectories. The convergence of increasing misinformation, scaled-back content moderation, and the rise of AI poses a fundamental threat to the 2024 US elections – and democracy. Last week, YouTube reversed its election integrity policy, and Meta reinstated the Instagram account of a notorious misinformation spreader and is set to bring back Donald Trump. How to safeguard the integrity of elections and ensure the health of our democratic processes? Read more in this article.
  • AI misinformation mayhem. A radio host sues OpenAI after its ChatGPT allegedly defamed him by falsely claiming he embezzled funds from a gun rights nonprofit. The case revives the discussion on accountability in the field of artificial intelligence: Who’s responsible for the potential harm caused by AI-generated disinformation? Read the article here.

Brussels corner

  • EMFA. The EU Member States are nearing the General Approach for the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA). The Audiovisual Working Party met yesterday, 12 June, to discuss the Swedish proposal for compromises before the representatives of Member States (COREPER) likely meet on 21 June to sign off the text. However, some diplomats are less optimistic that the General Approach can be agreed as there are still many sticking points left, including on article 17 and the media exemption. You still have a chance to reach out to your national governments to help us fight against the media exemption! The European Parliament Committee on Culture and Education (CULT) also started discussing possible compromise amendments. They should soon be taking up the media exemption discussions. You can reach out to the MEPs to raise with them the dangers of the media exemption. If you are looking for inspiration, you can use some of the materials from last week’s Twitter campaign
  • Code of practice. To combat disinformation, the European Commission has asked major tech platforms to detect and label AI generated content, tasking the signatories of the EU’s Code of practice against disinformation to assist users in identifying such content (on a voluntary basis, of course). Read more here.
  • DSA stakeholder event. 27 June is nearing, and it will bring many different stakeholders to discuss the Digital Services Act (DSA) implementation and enforcement. You can either attend in person or online. Draft agenda is here, and your own EU DisinfoLab will be bringing its views on how the DSA will help to fight disinformation. The registrations will open soon. 
  • The AI Act vote. The final vote on the European Parliament’s negotiating position on the AI Act for the upcoming Trilogues is expected this Wednesday, 14 June. See the Plenary agenda.

What we’re reading and listening

  • Sidekick to human fact-checkers? The study ‘Leveraging ChatGPT for Efficient Fact-Checking’ found that the AI chatbot accurately categorised statements as true or false in 69% of cases.
  • Interconnectedness. In this podcast, Alicia Wanless discusses the complexities of information ecology, the unintended consequences of anti-disinformation measures, and the need for a more holistic approach to managing information spaces (continuing with the theme of this article that featured in our Disinfo Update a few weeks ago).
  • Riding the wave of AI deception, unscathed. As the tsunami of AI tools crashes upon us, flooding the digital landscape with hyper-realistic fake images, videos, and human-like texts, the prospect of labelling systems such as metadata or watermarks as a lifeline to distinguish between human and machine-generated content is being explored. Read more here.
  • Tweet talk. This podcast takes a deep dive into the captivating world of Twitter as the ultimate digital public square, featuring media scholar Ethan Zuckerman. From shaping global conversations to exploring alternative spaces, the podcast delves into the ever-evolving landscape of online communities.
  • Unplugging hate. This study investigates the transformative consequences of removing the leadership of online hate organisations from popular platforms. Focusing on six network disruptions on Facebook, where known members of hate-based organisations were expelled, it examines the behavioural changes within the target audience, and highlights the efficacy of targeted removal strategies.
  • Trust, trends, turmoil. Our post-secular society offers a perfect space for ontological insecurity to thrive – and lifestyle and wellness influencers to gain trust by presenting themselves as authentic and accessible, and anti-vaccine influencers to exploit fears and maternal instincts to discourage vaccination, relying on emotional appeals and personal anecdotes instead of refuting medical facts. Read more in this article.

This week’s recommended read

Nicolas Hénin, senior external researcher at the Disinfo Lab, advises you not to be too quick to trust AI detectors. Instead, read Andrew Myers’ article on Human-centered Artificial Intelligence, which explains that, while seven companies have developed tools to check whether a text is man-made or created by an AI, these detectors are biased against non-native English speakers. The challenge posed by ChatGPT and its clones in disinformation remains high!

The latest from EU DisinfoLab

  • Join our Brussels team as a Policy and Advocacy Coordinator! Contribute to our mission of combating disinformation and protecting democratic values. Lead advocacy actions, shape policies, and collaborate with a passionate community of experts, civil society organisations, and policymakers. If you have a background in political science, excellent communication skills, and a drive to make a difference, apply now or share this opportunity with potential candidates. Find more details about the position here as soon as possible, and at the latest on 20 June.
  • 42. Why do people believe in conspiracies? How is AI altering our perception of reality? Can we cure our data dependence? How can we build a stronger resilient community? And what’s the point of all this? The eagerly anticipated programme for the EU DisinfoLab Annual Conference 2023 is now out, so just dive in, and register to make sure to not miss the answers to these ultimate questions!

Events and announcements

  • 27 June: Participate in the first Digital Services Act (DSA) Stakeholder event in-person in Brussels or online. More information and registration here.
  • 28 June: Join us for an insightful webinar as we delve into the varying and unique disinformation landscapes across Europe, with the help of our series of country factsheets. Register here!
  • 29 June: The ‘Meet the Future of AI’ hybrid conference (in Brussels, with the possibility to attend remotely) will delve into the challenges presented by emerging generative AI solutions. Discover the draft programme, and register here!
  • 30 June: The European Media and Information Fund (EMIF) is hosting an event ‘Countering Disinformation During the Rise of AI’ in Brussels. Join to learn about the impact of EMIF’s work during the Fund’s second year and the activities of its granted projects. Register here.
  • 3 July: We are happy to have already confirmed two distinguished speakers to our upcoming webinar on climate change disinformation: Jennie King, Head of Climate Research and Policy at ISDGlobal, and Adam Barnett, News Reporter at DeSmog. The discussion will cover denialist and conspirative content falsely portraying climate change solutions as restrictions on freedom, weaponisation of climate change to advance political agendas, and more. Save the date and stay tuned for more details!
  • 1-4 September: Unleash your inner activist! Freedom not Fear, an annual unconference on privacy and digital rights, will take place in Brussels. Registration is required for the visit to the European Parliament, and highly recommended (though not mandatory) for the rest of the event. Find all the details you need right here.
  • 11-12 October: Don’t miss out the first-ever EU DisinfoLab Conference outside of Brussels – secure your spot by registering here, and be sure to check out the exciting program details.
  • Steering the information ecosystem. Are you working at the intersection of technology and democracy and eager to contribute to the first international and transdisciplinary evaluation of the information ecosystem and its impact on democracy? If so, we have exciting news for you: The International Observatory on Information and Democracy has opened a call for nominations to form its steering committee. Find all the details here.
  • Survey: command line OSINT tools. Bellingcat asks open source researchers to name their favourite command line tools. Fill out the survey here.

Job opportunities

This good tweet!