A few words from Alexandre and the EU DisinfoLab team

We’re just a few months away from what has been called the “super election year”. In 2024, the EU, the US and India will all go to the polls, hopefully celebrating the rule of law and democracy. But a growing and disturbing tune is being played in the public space.

In the US, far-right and populist media are launching vicious attacks against civil society organisations that are part of the community tackling disinformation (e.g. the DFR Lab, the Global Disinformation Index or Nina Jankowicz). In India, after ANI press agency has been caught in repeatedly quoting bad sources, its editor simply dismissed the findings corroborated by EU DisinfoLab and Forbidden Stories. In Europe, when the “Qatargate” scandal shows the impact of foreign interferences, it is, surprisingly, the NGO sector that is blamed for the institutions’ lack of enforcement of their own ethical rules.

As an international community, all of us are facing the same risks of abuse and harassment. We have a collective responsibility to support each other when these hideous campaigns unfold. But we also need to speak strongly against such campaigns, and demand accountability for those launching these attacks.

Democracy dies in darkness”. It also dies in silence.

Disinfo news & updates

  • Online hate. According to this BBC article, Twitter insiders have shared “that the company is no longer able to protect users from trolling, state-co-ordinated disinformation and child sexual exploitation, following lay-offs and changes under owner Elon Musk.” 
  • UK Online Safety Bill. Britain’s landmark rules to digital regulation – “which are expected to become law by the autumn” – have turned into a bitter political fight, as reported in Politico.

Brussels corner: still time to act against media exemption! 

  • As mentioned in our last Disinfo Update, media exemption is back in the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA). More than ever, we need to join forces to make our voices heard, and ask that the Swedish compromise proposal on Article 17 is rejected and the Article itself is deleted.
    While Member States had until last Friday to provide written comments on the Swedish proposal, you still have time to bring up your points to your national governments, and make sure they’re aware of how disastrous this proposal could be in our fight against disinformation. Should media exemption go through in the EMFA, the conflict with the Digital Services Act (DSA) is inevitable, and any advance on disinformation in the latter will be undermined with the loophole in the EMFA. 
  • Getting closer. The designation of Very large online platforms (VLOPs) and very large online search engines (VLOSEs) under the Digital Services Act might come sooner than expected. The European Commission seems to already have preliminary findings on the qualification of the companies.
    Why should the counter-disinformation community care? VLOPs and VLOSEs will need to do systemic risk assessments and take mitigation measures, including on disinformation. Note that many services would probably rely on the Code of Practice on Disinformation to be their risk mitigation measure. However, in its current state, it is only a voluntary mechanism. It won’t turn into the co-regulatory Code of Conduct on Disinformation under the DSA at least until the Digital Services Coordinators are appointed, in February 2024, at the earliest.

What we’re reading

  • “Ghostwriter” operation. A deep plunge into the set of the information operation tactics that were used in the “Ghostwriter” campaign, and yet how “designating sanctions or prosecuting those responsible for Ghostwriter have not been used as part of the response. The EU has not put its cyber sanctions toolbox into use and designated sanctions on those responsible for Ghostwriter’s activity”.
  • OSINT evidence. Nick Waters, Open Source Analyst at Bellingcat, shares how Bellingcat collects, verifies and archives digital evidence of war crimes in Ukraine. 
  • Kremlin disinfo about Ukraine. The International Forum for Democratic Studies launched a new report on the civil society-led response to Kremlin’s disinformation operations related to the invasion of Ukraine.
  • Disinfo in election times. This Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) report, “The online information environment around elections”, draws an insightful analysis of disinformation targeting electoral processes, organisations and individuals in global electoral management between 2016 and 2022.

This week’s recommended read by

Nicolas Hénin, Senior Researcher at EU DisinfoLab, enjoyed reading CrossOver’s latest report “Is China trying to control the narrative about Xinjiang on Google News?”, that measures the Chinese government’s attempts to influence the perception of Xinjiang – where human rights abuses are routinely reported -, by users of Google News based in Belgium. One of the strategies is to flood the topic with articles published by Chinese state-controlled media outlets.
ICYMI: EDMO BELUX hosted a webinar last week with the CrossOver project on this report. Replay available here.  

Join us…

  • In our fight against #BadSources! On 23 February, EU DisinfoLab unveiled its latest OSINT investigation into anti-Pakistan/China influence operations, a follow up on two previous investigations published in 2019 and 2020. It looks into a number of non-existent organisations, bloggers and journalists who are regularly quoted by Asian News International (ANI). Click here to find out more about “Bad Sources” (shortened as BS), the name we gave to this investigation.
  • In expanding our understanding of the state of disinformation. Ahead of the European elections, we have developed a new publication format: our European country factsheets! In a short read, you’ll grasp the essentials of the disinformation landscapes across Member States. We’ve kicked it off with France, Germany, Italy and Spain
    You’re enjoying this format and would like to contribute with disinformation insights on your EU country? Reach out to us!
  • For a Twitter ads webinar. This Thursday, March 9 (10:30 – 11:30AM CET), webinar with Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate. Imran will present the “Toxic Twitter” research which has discovered that previously banned Twitter accounts are generating millions of dollars in advertising revenue for the platform. Register here.
  • For a gender-based disinformation webinar. Curious to learn more about monetizing misogyny and the role of the media in spreading online disinformation and hate in Italy and Hungary? Join us on March 21 (3:30 to 4:30PM CET) for a webinar with #ShePersisted!
  • For #Disinfo2023. Have you blocked the 11 & 12 October yet? Those are the dates for the 2023 EU DisinfoLab Annual Conference which will take place in Krakow, Poland. More to come soon!

Events & announcements

  • 9 March. Webinar with Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, who will present the main findings from their latest study, “Toxic Twitter” (from 10:30 – 11:30AM CET). More on how the social media platform stands to make millions in ad revenue by bringing back 10 accounts full of disinformation. Register here!
  • 9 March. EDMO organises a seminar on climate change disinformation (from 4 to 5:20PM).
  • 15 March. Join this Engage Research Lab and EDMO BELUX event, “Fake news in the Western Balkans: tackling disinformation at the sidelines of the European Union”. 
  • 20-24 March. Bellingcat is hosting an in-person workshop about digital investigation techniques in Amsterdam. Limited number of spots. Register here.  
  • 21 March. Webinar on “Monetizing Misogyny” (3:30-4:30PM), the latest #ShePersisted study, which will zoom in on the role of the media in spreading online hate and disinformation in Italy & Hungary. With Lucina Di Meco, Co-Founder of #ShePersisted, Anna Fejős, Researcher at the Institute for Sociology, Center for Social Sciences, Budapest, and Maria Giovanna Sessa, Senior Researcher at EU DisinfoLab. Sign up here!
  • 30 March. Mediawijs organises a Network media training evening (6-9PM) in Brussels. 
  • 25 May. Save the date for EDMO’s 2023 Annual Conference to be held in Brussels.
  • 11-12 October. Mark these dates! #Disinfo2023, EU DisinfoLab’s 2023 Annual Conference, will be hosted in the beautiful city of Krakow, Poland!
  • Want to learn more about verification workflows and tools? Explore this How To Verify website which gathers verification experiences and insights from different sources. 

Jobs & fellowship opportunities

This good thread!