For Debunk EU, building a response to match the scale of the disinformation problem has meant merging automation and artificial intelligence with human analysis and dedicated volunteers (a network of ‘elves’). “How do you find the needle in the haystack, the needle being disinformation cases that have the biggest impact? If you do it manually, you’ll never see the bigger picture”, explains Viktoras. Debunk EU has developed an AI-based analytics tool which spots and identifies topics of interest in online articles in real time. This means that from 1 million pieces of content they receive each month, their analysts can focus on the most harmful ones (10 – 15 000 content pieces). Long term reporting and analysis are also at the core of their approach: disinformation analysts in the four countries provide thematic reports on topics and trends, which are then shared with a wide range of stakeholders. Debunk EU has applied process automation across their reporting and analysis activities, allowing them to produce around 10 reports per month.
A scalable approach
Founded in 2017, the project emerged in the Baltic countries and was supported by DELFI and the Google News Initiative. Debunk EU’s initial partnership with colleagues in Latvia and Estonia was inspired by their shared history and disinformation threat constantly coming out of Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union. In order to meet this challenge, they have drawn on their expertise in research and analysis, accumulated over many years.
Currently they see potential for working with Eastern partnership countries as well. “The technology is scalable, and we can work with local partners”, say Viktoras. The fact that the Debunk EU team in Poland was able to produce their first report within four weeks of its establishment in Warsaw proves that the system is not only scalable, but also able to achieve significant results in a short time.
Developing automated solutions is costly and requires in-house technical expertise, which is rare in the disinformation space, and generally unheard of among NGOs of this size. Debunk EU is growing rapidly, and now sustainability is the main question. As a tech-based organisation whose infrastructure is regularly attacked, they must invest heavily in cybersecurity and monitoring of their digital ecosystem. Even the most agile project management requires fuel to run on. While they haven’t found the optimal financial model yet, Viktoras says that they will be testing out new models in 2021.