Dear Disinfo Update readers,
Welcome to this edition of our newsletter, your trusted source for curated updates on news, events, and announcements in the disinformation field from around the globe.
Is Doppelganger the new spooky name in town? After the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs once again called out Doppelganger/RRN for their involvement in a hybrid operation that will remind us of Thomas Rid’s Active Measures, there is certainly an increased interest in the topic. Rest assured, we got you covered, with this straightforward page where you can get all the latest updates on this network (including the latest communications from the US State Department about a linked operation)!
In the unpredictable landscape of today’s digital world, unity is key! While anticipating enhanced portability across social media platforms, we aren’t holding our breath, but taking the initiative. If, just like us, you’ve been struggling with your Bird opt-out, we’re launching a low-tech solution! We want to help our community in (re-)connecting on the rising platforms Bluesky and Mastodon. Join the effort by filling out this form!
Finally, throwback to #Disinfo2023: It was a joy to have many of you at our Annual Conference in Krakow on 11-12 October! You can find the presentation slides and a selection of snapshots on our website. Click here to relive the experience!
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Disinfo news & updates
- Reining in AI. Meta announced that, to prevent the potential spread of election misinformation, political campaigns and advertisers in regulated industries will be prohibited from using the new generative AI advertising products on its platforms. The move follows Meta’s expansion of advertisers’ access to AI-powered advertising tools.
- No free lunch. In an attempt to comply with the evolving EU regulations, Meta bids final farewell to its once-prominent tagline, and formally puts a price tag on the data of its European users, introducing a subscription option that allows them to pay a monthly fee to use Facebook and Instagram without ads.
- End of monetising disinfo on X? Having previously faced criticism for the platform’s ad revenue sharing model potentially encouraging sensational and misleading content, X owner Elon Musk announced a change in the policy, stating that users won’t receive revenue from posts corrected by ‘Community Notes’.
- End of research on X? Elon Musk’s actions in restructuring X and restrictions on data access have led to the cancellation, suspension, or alteration of over a hundred social media research studies. A survey reveals that researchers have concerns about legal repercussions from X over their findings or data use. Read more here.
- Star dezinformatsiya. Last week, blue Stars of David – a symbol that could be interpreted as either pro or anti-Israeli – appeared on buildings in Paris, followed by images spreading fast on social media, fueling controversy and confusion. The French state’s technical and operational service responsible for protection against foreign digital interference, VIGINUM, detected the involvement of a network of over a thousand bots on X, affiliated to the Recent Reliable News (RRN), which is linked of the Russia-based influence operation network Doppelganger. The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs called out on Russia, while, of course, the latter denied any involvement.
- VIGINUM again. Based on analysis of an X campaign that spread during the summer, calling to boycott Olympic games, the French authorities also called out Azerbaijan for a foreign interference operation. Part of the operation included the posting of an online video produced by a dubious media (wink wink, media exemption defenders!) with ties to other Azeri online assets, as Euronews originally reported.
What we’re reading
- Valid or bogus? How to separate fact from fiction on social media in times of conflict? Dive into this short guide from Bellingcat that offers essential tips for discerning truth from a sea of online content.
- Israel-Hamas. This article reports that Russia, China, and Iran are allegedly using state media and social media to support Hamas and spread disinformation against Israel and the United States, suggesting the involvement of nations or large non-state actors. This DFRLab investigation uncovered numerous Facebook and TikTok accounts disseminating an article calling for violence against Jewish targets, attempting to evade platform detection. This article analyses the changing dynamics on X during the conflict, revealing a group of influential accounts that has gained prominence. This Euronews article discusses accusations by pro-Israeli accounts that Gazans are staging their suffering, faking injuries, and using crisis actors for sympathy amid the Israeli military’s ground assault in Gaza. Despite initial concerns that AI generated fake images would flood the conflict, this Wired article suggests that the role of AI has been more subtle. We keep updating our Israel-Hamas armed conflict resource hub.
- Taking care. The Center for Countering Digital Hate offers practical guidance on how to avoid spreading disinformation, to increase your own information resilience, and to practise self-care during conflicts, emergencies, and disasters, and how to report social media posts that spread lies, conspiracies or misleading claims to the platforms.
- Fake networks, real risks. This report by Reset highlights the existence of extensive networks comprising hundreds of thousands of fake Facebook pages engaging in various malpractices, likely generated with automated tools. The findings raise concerns about Meta’s readiness for mitigating large-scale inauthentic activities and its compliance with the Digital Services Act (DSA) ahead of European elections.
- Antidote to disinformation. The Wikimedia Foundation has launched a repository of anti-disinformation projects, providing access to different communities’ initiatives, tools, and contact details. The repository aims to facilitate collaboration and scaling of these projects to create and share trustworthy information, and to reduce knowledge gaps.
- Labelling trust in deepfake times. This research explores tweets relating to deepfakes during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Findings reveal challenges in deepfake literacy, a link between deepfakes and conspiratorial beliefs, and highlights the delicate balance in labelling suspected content without eroding trust in authentic videos.
This week’s recommended read
Prior to the invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin was helped by a few disinformation professionals in France to conceal the threats Russia was making to Europe. The start of their work took place ten years ago, when Bashar al-Assad was using chemical weapons to kill his citizens while the Kremlin was preparing to clamp down on the Ukrainian revolution. The book ‘Comment Poutine a conquis nos cerveaux’ (‘How Putin conquered our brains’), recommended by our Managing Director Gary Machado, is about who they are and how they did it. Written by an independent journalist Élie Guckert, it offers an exclusive and comprehensive story of ten years of Russian propaganda in France – who is behind it since the beginning, how they managed to infiltrate the French political landscape and the media ecosystem, and how it reveals weaknesses within the French democracy at a time where information warfare has never been so rampant and sophisticated.
The latest from EU DisinfoLab
- #Disinfo2023: Thanks for joining us! On 11-12 October, we welcomed nearly 400 attendees from diverse backgrounds to our Annual Conference in Krakow to dig into the pressing issues in the disinformation space. You can now find the links to the presentation slides for most sessions in the conference programme, and this selection of photos covering the two conference days will help you relive the experience. Don’t miss next year’s conference – mark your calendars: #Disinfo2024 will take place in Riga, Latvia, on 9-10 October, 2023!
- (Re-)building the counter-disinfo community on Bluesky & Mastodon. Are you transitioning from X (formerly Twitter)? What a headache to rebuild your network! We want to facilitate bringing the counter-disinformation community together on Bluesky and Mastodon. Leave your user handle(s) and a description of your expertise via this form, and we’ll include them in a list that will be shared with fellow community members who also contribute their information.
- Doppelganger operation. Since at least February 2022, a multi-faceted online information operation originating from Russia, aiming mainly to undermine support for Ukraine following Russia’s aggression, and to sow divisions within countries supporting Ukraine, has targeted multiple countries worldwide. The EU DisinfoLab team working on the investigation decided to name the campaign Doppelganger for its regular use of fake clones of legitimate websites. We have now put together a page to gather a timeline of the Doppelganger operation with elements collected from different reports, going beyond the single Doppelganger operation and bringing together additional knowledge about other operations allegedly led by the same operators. Take a look here!
Events & announcements
- 16-17 November: European Media and Information Fund (EMIF) event ‘Community Building Against Disinformation’ will take place in Florence, Italy. Our Maria Giovanna Sessa will speak in the panel discussion ‘Lessons Learned and Future Avenues for Countering Disinformation’, discussing disinformation trends, impact, and solutions, drawing insights from from our series of factsheets on the European disinformation landscapes. Register here.
- 20-21 November: The European Congress on Disinformation and Fact-Checking will take place in Madrid and online, focusing on disinformation across the EU-Ukraine media landscape.
- 5 December (tbc): Our series of disinformation factsheets for Europe has garnered interest, becoming a valuable resource for our community. In continuation, join us for a webinar at the beginning of December, where we’ll delve into the trends and intricacies of disinformation across different Member States. Save the date, and stay tuned for details and registration!
- 26-27 February 2024: The EDMO Scientific Conference 2024, ‘Navigating the Complex Landscape of Disinformation’, will take place in Amsterdam. Registrations opening soon – save the date!
- 27 February – 1 March 2024: Media literacy initiatives, tools, projects, and practices will be discussed in Brussels during the European Digital and Media Literacy Conference week. Mark your calendars and subscribe to the interest list here!
- AI Governance Lab. The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) is launching a new AI Governance Lab – an initiative to advance robust solutions that address the risks and harms of artificial intelligence systems.
- Partnering for impact! EU DisinfoLab is involved in a number of European projects. Thanks to the experience gathered during these projects, we are in a perfect position to support projects in the areas of dissemination and communications, as well as research and investigative work around disinformation and policies linked to it. Our central position in the European and global counter-disinformation community allows us to support community building and stakeholder engagement in this sphere. Please get in touch to explore the possibilities to partner in future projects!
- Say No to Disinfo are seeking research volunteers to help build the world’s first and most complete open source online living database to counter disinformation. Learn more about the project and opportunity here.
- The University of Urbino is opening a new postdoc position with the focus on the vera.ai project that has the objective is to develop trustworthy artificial intelligence solutions to combat advanced disinformation techniques.
- The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) is looking for a UK-based Research Officer.