Dear Disinfo Update readers,

Welcome to our fortnightly newsletter, your trusted source for curated updates on news, events, and announcements in the disinformation field from around the globe.

In Brussels, discussions are entering the final stage in the European Parliament surrounding the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA). Article 17 has stirred controversy, as it potentially offers protection to outlets disseminating disinformation, exempting them from fact-checking labelling or other mitigative measures. Critics argue that this could legitimise such outlets and obstruct efforts to counteract the spread of false information. Domen Savic, in Slovenia, demonstrated how antivax disinformation outlets could be registered as legitimate media entities and benefit from these “privileges”. 

In Belgium, the proliferation of such malicious actors has spurred a new wave of online lies. Fighting a so-called “World Sexual order” agenda, the effects of these lies on democracy are unfolding. In just a few weeks, we’ve seen demonstrations growing, elected representatives harassed, and schools set ablaze. As digital myths blur with reality, the urgency to work collectively to combat such narratives becomes ever clearer, as writes our own Alexandre Alaphilippe for EDMO BELUX.

In collaboration with our incredible community of experts, we’ve poured our hearts and souls into creating valuable resources for those combatting disinformation. Our collection of factsheets on disinformation landscapes across Europe continues to grow, providing fresh insights into this evolving landscape. Additionally, our new factsheet delves into the policies of major platforms regarding climate change misinformation, shedding light on the content moderation and media literacy education efforts undertaken (or not) by Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, X/Twitter, and YouTube.

And now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for: #Disinfo2023! The final countdown has begun, and our annual conference is approaching at a dizzying speed. Now is the perfect time to get ready! Explore our programme filled with captivating panels, engaging workshops, and insightful keynotes – and don’t miss your final opportunity to register!

Disinfo news & updates

  • The Digital Services Act: Rolling! Can X/Twitter really be excluded from Europe because of the DSA? What are the next steps for fining platforms not complying with the DSA? How much time will it take? In this article from Tech Policy Press, it will be easy for you to separate facts from wishful thinking. Spoiler alert: a lot of work is ahead of us.
  • TikTok faces GDPR trouble. TikTok failed to protect children’s personal information by making their accounts publicly accessible by default and insufficiently tackling risks that under-13 users could access its platform. Result: €345mn fine for breaching the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). More about it in this article.
  • Joining the compliance struggle. OpenAI has been accused of violating the GDPR provisions related to lawful basis, transparency, fairness, data access rights, and privacy by design, in a complaint filed with the Polish Data Protection Authorities by cybersecurity and privacy researcher Lukasz Olejnik. Details here.
  • AI ideally. As the European Union’s Artificial Intelligence Act nears its final negotiation phase, AlgorithmWatch and the AI, Media, and Democracy Lab of the University of Amsterdam released key policy recommendations for governing General Purpose AI and Generative AI, to help the EU to live up to its commitment to responsible AI governance and championing fundamental rights.
  • AI IRL. The rapid shift of AI from academic textbooks to mainstream applications raises both excitement and concerns. The proliferation of generative AI models has brought AI to the forefront, prompting (pun intended) governments worldwide to harness its transformative potential while addressing its potential downsides. This article explores the global landscape of AI regulation.
  • AI here! Google will require all election advertisers to include clear disclosures when their ads contain AI-generated content across its platforms. The decision comes amid rising concerns about the increased utilisation of AI for manipulative online campaigns. However, the disclosure requirements will not apply to synthetic content that is irrelevant to the ad’s claims. Read more here.
  • From online lies to arsons. The EVRAS guide, designed to facilitate education on life’s relational, emotional, and sexual aspects in Belgian schools, has become a focal point of online disinformation. This has led to public unrest, demonstrations, harassment of representatives, and even schools being vandalised and set on fire. Researchers highlight the tangible consequences of such online falsehoods on democracy. We must prioritise combatting these narratives and reaffirm our dedication to safeguarding our democratic establishments and institutions. Read more here.

What we’re reading

  • Where’s The Money At? This report by Center for Monitoring, Analysis and Strategy (CeMAS) offers a comprehensive analysis of how German-speaking right-wing extremists on Telegram raise funds that play a crucial role in strengthening their networks.
  • Dispersing vaccine disinformation. What happened after Facebook applied some restrictions to anti-vax content? This paper ‘The efficacy of Facebook’s vaccine misinformation policies and architecture during the COVID-19 pandemic’ concludes that the measures were not very effective due to Facebook’s system architecture.
  • CIB in Italian elections. This article, published under the vera ai project, discusses a workflow designed to detect, monitor, and update lists of coordinated social media accounts, with a focus on the 2022 Italian snap election. 
  • From Russia with likes. The Kremlin has been intensifying its efforts to gain influence in Africa through information operations leveraging social media, and Facebook in particular. We nearly missed this top-notch report which presents evidence of Russia’s extensive and persistent manipulation efforts in Francophone Africa. Published by Reset in July, we stumbled upon it while catching up on our reading post-summer holidays. Definitely worth a read!
  • The vaccine divide. Another gem that almost escaped our attention: This study examines the connection between political party affiliation and excess mortality in the US during the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings indicate that once COVID-19 vaccines were available to all adults, there was a notable increase in excess mortality among Republican voters in comparison to their Democratic counterparts.

This week’s recommended read

This week’s recommended read by our Research Manager Maria Giovanna reveals that, in an attempt to dodge European bans, TikTok is investing €1.2bn  ($1.3bn) to establish three data centres in Ireland and Denmark by 2024. Yet, scepticism prevails regarding the effectiveness of the platform’s data protection measures, leading the EU institutions to ban TikTok from officials’ devices.

The latest from EU DisinfoLab

  • Climate change misinformation & platforms. How is misinformation distorting climate science and fact-based policy-making? How is this fuelling an digital outrage economy? Are big platforms doing enough? Read our new factsheet on platforms’ policies on climate change misinformation, and listen to this Böll·Europe Podcast in which Jennie King and our researcher Ana Romero-Vicente explore the concerning rise of climate change disinformation on prominent social networks with the host Gail Rego.
  • Wander into new disinfo landscapes! Our collection of factsheets on disinformation landscapes across various European countries is growing! You can now access and download the latest releases for Latvia, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, and the Netherlands. (And find previously published factsheets in the series right here.)

Events & announcement

  • 26 September: Our Research Manager Maria Giovanna Sessa will speak in a panel at 14:00 CEST in the event ‘Gender Violence and Disinformation in the Digital Realm: Persistent Challenges and Necessary Responses’. Just on time to jump in – register here!
  • 26-27 September: Complutense University will organise two sessions on OSINT: ‘The relevance of OSINT journalism’ and ‘OSINT in the international judicial system’. Find the details here, and the full programme in this X.
  • 27 September: At the JRC Disinformation workshop, at 16:15 CEST, we’ll be presenting ‘The disinformation challenge: from analysis to action’, touching upon our Doppelganger investigation and DSA. Register here.
  • 28-29 September: The European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO) will gather with the fourteen EDMO Hubs in Dubrovnik, Croatia, and online. Our researcher Raquel Miguel Serrano will be contributing to the plenary discussion on generative AI and disinformation. Details of the meeting here.
  • 29-30 September: 16th Dubrovnik Media Days under the theme of ‘Disinformation Research: Current Trends and Perspectives’ will be organised at the University of Dubrovnik, Croatia, in cooperation with the EDMO and Croatian Academy of Science and Arts. Find the details here.
  • 4-5 October: The Center for Democracy & Technology’s virtual event ‘Generative AI and the Future of Speech Online’ will explore how to build a rights-respecting future where people benefit from generative AI. Registration and link to watch the event live here.
  • 11-12 October: Two weeks to go until #Disinfo2023! Check out the programme and – last of the last reminders – register!
  • 13-14 November: ‘Tackling disinformation: Strengthening democracy through information integrity’ will bring together representatives from government, digital platforms, media, academia, and civil society to identify effective policy responses to the urgent challenges our democracies face in the information space. Register here.
  • 20-21 November: Register here to join (remotely or IRL in Madrid, Spain) the European Congress on Disinformation and Fact-Checking that will focus on the disinformation across the EU-Ukraine media landscape.
  • 26-27 February 2024: EDMO Scientific Conference 2024 will be organised in Amsterdam. Call for papers is now open!
  • Building an inclusive and safer digital space. The United Nations is developing a Code of Conduct for information integrity on digital platforms. Submit your feedback and suggestions via this open consultation by 1 December.
  • Wrestle those trolls! EDMO BELUX & SciComm Academy’s Lunch Lecture ‘How scientists can cope with negativity on social media’ took place on 14 September. The guest speaker Bert Pieters, Mediawijs, offered his insights and guidelines to address negative comments on social media. Watch the recording here.
  • Report on climate disinformation case studies! The Heinrich Böll Foundation has published a call for applications for freelance journalists to write about local stories of climate disinformation. Find the details here.

This good X!