Dear Disinfo Update readers,
Welcome to our fortnightly newsletter on disinformation, offering you a curated selection of news, events, and announcements in the disinformation field from around the world.
2024, the year of many elections, is drawing inexorably closer. The impact of social media, algorithms, AI, and disinformation on the results is expected to surpass any previous elections. Quite a bit more about that under ‘Disinfo news & updates’.
In this edition, we also revisit EMFA and DSA, delve into the delicate balance between misinformation laws and press freedom, explore new territorial conquests of social media, and put forward suggestions for further reading on Threads.
Savour this Disinfo Update while you can – the next one will be served after the summer break!
Disinfo news & updates
- Disinformation, democracy, AI. As 2024 and its multiple important elections approach, the rise of AI technology poses a serious threat of disinformation and propaganda campaigns. New tools democratise the creation and dissemination of political propaganda, and the sheer scale of content that can be generated muddies information and trust, and blurs the line between reality and fabrication.
- …and social media. Social media, of course, plays an increasing role in shaping political discourse. This opinion piece calls for tech companies to take greater responsibility for the content they host and be transparent about their policies and efforts to counter election disinformation.
- Platform perils. In the run-up to the Turkish presidential election last May, president Erdoğan relied on deepfakes and censorship to help swing voters his way. This article highlights the danger of hackers, bot armies, and scammers exploiting TikTok and other platforms to manipulate their users’ voting behaviour.
- Pas de mots bleus. In France, the commission for campaign accounts and political financing (CNCCFP), issued an advice, recommending candidates not to subscribe to Twitter Blue. The administrative body considered that its features would offer the candidates an unequal algorithmic boost that could be assimilated to the use of commercial advertising. French law prohibits such political advertising within six months of a vote. As the European elections draw near, this position could redefine how algorithmic amplification is perceived, as well as the business model of social platforms.
- ¡Jaleo electoral! Misleading claims about election fraud were spreading on social media ahead of Spain’s pivotal election. Social media platforms were inconsistent in handling false claims, and experts warned that the spread of misinformation could make it difficult for voters to discern reliable information from falsehoods. Read more here.
- Who censors whom? Disinformation researchers in the US are being accused of being part of a “censorship regime” that aims at suppressing conservative opinions. The accusations and investigations are taking a toll on scientists who have been singled out publicly, and there are concerns that such actions could discourage researchers from pursuing disinformation research. Read the article here.
- Sizzle this summer. Summer is here, and so are the “wellness” influencers claiming that the sun doesn’t cause cancer, but sunscreen does. More about it in this article.
- Misinfo magnified. Generative AI, capable of producing content that appears plausible but lacks accuracy, can deepen the misinformation problem in three ways: creating misinformation, aiding disinformation campaigns, and becoming a target for manipulators seeking to shape information debate. According to some estimates, AI-generated content could soon account for 99% of all information on the internet. How are platforms addressing the problem? More about it in this article.
- TikTok-tastic. TikTok announced that its Research API, initially released in the US for non-profit academic researchers, will be available to European researchers as well, enabling them to study content on the platform. TikTok states that it welcomes feedback to further promote independent research and transparency. Read more here.
What we’re reading
- EFF on EMFA, VLOPs, and DSA. This article by The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) argues that the media exemption in the Article 17 of the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA) contradicts the Digital Services Act (DSA) and overloads Very Large Online Platforms (VLOPs) with conflicting procedures. Media freedom should not be compromised by political interference or state censorship, and rejection or significant revision of Article 17 is needed to ensure accountability and transparent content moderation systems.
- Not a very large online platform? Amazon doesn’t want the obligations related to policing hate speech and disinformation, and has filed a petition with an EU court challenging DSA. But if one of the world’s largest and most influential e-commerce platforms is not a VLOP, who is?
- Misinfo laws. This study examines the proliferation of “fake news” laws in 78 countries since 2011 to combat misinformation, disinformation, and mal-information (MDM) online. While some laws focus on improving platform transparency and media literacy, many criminalise the creation and distribution of false information. These laws can hinder press freedom, and a more holistic approach is needed to address MDM while safeguarding freedom of the press and human rights online.
- One to rule them all. Social media is taking over. A report by UK media regulator Ofcom reveals that nearly two-thirds of young adults in the UK access news through social media on their mobile phones, instead of relying on traditional news sources. This article suggests that platforms like TikTok and Reddit might be also stepping into Google’s shoes, particularly for younger internet users, and becoming their preferred go-to search engine. These trends are elevating social media platforms as significant gatekeepers for news and information, raising concerns about potential risks.
- ‘Bloß mit Biss’ Blitz. To evade platform bans on Kremlin content, Russian state media organisation SNA News employs short-form videos and podcasts on TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Apple Podcasts to spread their criticism towards the German government’s support for Ukraine. Read the ISD study here.
- Climate change disinformation? Greenwashing? Climate change disinformation involves the deliberate spread of false or misleading information about the climate crisis, undermining trust in climate science and preventing action. Greenwashing is a marketing tactic used by companies to falsely portray their products or services as environmentally friendly. Read in this article how tech companies, governments, and legislators should tackle both of these harmful practices. This article is about a campaign by the UK Energy and Utilities Association (EUA) to greenwash the use of hydrogen for domestic heating, by generating negative press and undermining the credibility of heat pumps. Promoting a less environmentally friendly alternative, despite strong evidence existing of its limitations, could, in addition to boosting the gas boiler industry, mislead the public and policymakers regarding effective climate change mitigation strategies.
This week’s recommended read
This week, EU DisinfoLab’s Researcher Ana Romero Vicente recommends learning about Threads, Meta’s new app, through this interview with David Karpf, an associate professor at the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs. The interview covers the inevitable comparison with Twitter, discusses the most attractive features of this new social network, and ponders whether Threads will become the next great social phenomenon.
While reading about Threads, it’s essential to pause and reflect on how this app is going to deal with disinformation. Though it’s early to draw conclusions, we can’t ignore the concerns raised in this article by Mashable, indicating that Threads already has a hate speech problem. We’ll be keeping a close watch on this new app and sharing our discoveries.
The latest from EU DisinfoLab
- Conference countdown. Already registered for #Disinfo2023? Dive into the details of the programme and check all the practical details on the conference page. Not yet registered? Dude. Do it now.
- Chill! Summer and sun. We’re trying to take it easy for a few weeks (and you totally should, too). If you ever get the itch to abandon your easy-breezy beach reads, you know where to find our treasure trove of publications and resources.
- 4 September: The first EDMO BELUX Lunch Lecture after the summer break will feature guest speaker Guillaume Kuster who presents to us ‘Facebook Hustles’, CheckFirst’s investigation on a massive crypto ad scam operation. Sign up here!
- 14 September: Continuing the EDMO BELUX Lunch Lecture series, guest speaker Bert Pieters, Mediawijs, will shed light on how scientists can cope with negativity on social media. Register here and join the webinar.
- 11-12 October: Our highly anticipated annual conference #Disinfo2023 is just around the corner, and we can’t wait to see it all unfold. Register now, and join us in Krakow, Poland!
- CheckFirst is hiring a junior Communications and Research Specialist to take on the ODIL project, a platform that gathers 80+ stakeholders fighting disinformation in the French speaking world.
- Access Now is looking for a Communities Communications Coordinator based in one of their office locations, and a Senior Finance Officer – Belgium to join their Brussels team.
- Logically is looking for Deputy Editors (Europe), based in Ukraine or Poland and Estonia.
- Zinc Network is searching for a Senior Campaigns Manager (UK, hybrid), and a Media Development Consultant (Poland, hybrid).
- The Centre for Information Resilience (CIR) has several open positions, most of them UK based or hybrid, but some also remote, including Human Resources Manager, IT Manager, Lead Investigator – Myanmar Witness, and GIS & Remote Sensing Expert.
- Democracy Reporting International has various positions open in their Berlin and Tunis offices.