If you missed any of our annual conference, you can now see our event summary and replay the sessions on our YouTube channel! For those who were able to join us during the week, we’d love to have your feedback from the event!

You might see we’re testing a new format for this newsletter. Let us know what you think!

Disinfo News and Updates

  • Germany seems to have the largest QAnon following in the non-English-speaking world, an estimated audience of 200,000 people, gathered largely on Youtube, Facebook, and Telegram, led by Far-right influencers and groups.
  • The UK government’s investigation into Cambridge Analytica found no evidence of involvement with the Brexit referendum or of aiding Russian interference. Four organizations have been fined, Facebook with the highest at £500,000.
  • Line, a popular messaging app in Taiwan, has been used to disseminate inaccurate information related to Covid-19 and human rights abuses in China, reports Coda Story, who also point out a tactical shift “from open social networks to closed messaging services”
  • The European Union and 40 countries have proposed the creation of a Programme of Action for advancing responsible state behaviour in cyberspace. This is a step forward from the 2018 Paris Call forTrust and Security and a step away from the existing UN cyber working groups.
  • The European Union Internet Referral Unit, within Europol’s Counter Terrorism Centre, has identified 346 links of terrorist content on 27 platforms during its first referral action day on October 6, a cooperation with western Balkan partner countries.
  • On October 7th, the US Department of Justice announced the seizure of 92 domain names that it found were being used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps

EU Policy Monitor

  • The European Commission has published a second set of reports provided by the signatories of the Code of Practice on Disinformation (CoP). This set includes reporting from trade association signatories. 
  • The Parliament has released the final versions of three reports on the Digital Services Act: for the Internal Market Committee, the Legal Affairs Committee, and the Civil Liberties Committee. EDiMA, the European lobby representing online platforms, has come out with its position on the legislative package, calling for the new measures to avoid regulating harmful content and to focus on illegal content.
  • The Commission also seems poised to merge the Digital Services Act with another legislative initiative, the New Markets Tool, to form the Digital Markets Act. Plot Twist!

Research & Studies

  • Avaaz reports on a loophole in Facebook’s content recognition system that permits misinformation to continue to spread even after labeling, if it is tweaked slightly. 
  • The Stanford Internet Observatory analyzed an astroturfing operation that used fake accounts, apparently part of a growing trend in influence operations relying on marketing agencies.
  • Dr. Kim Gallon, associate professor of History and founder of the project COVID Black, writes about the historic role of the Black Press in responding to misinformation targeting Black voters in the United States, and the contemporary threats to this system of defense.
  • “Beyond (Mis)Representation: Visuals in COVID-19 Misinformation” presents an important look beyond text-based misinformation.

A Tale of Two Platforms

This was another long week in the world of content moderation. Since last Tuesday, we learned that Facebook will ban all QAnon-related content and Holocaust denial content (any more low hanging fruit out there?) but also that the net used to catch this content is full of holes. Meanwhile, Twitter is expanding their state-linked information operations archive and increasing their measures in the lead up to the US election including by adding ‘friction’ – confusingly, some of Facebook’s new measures are planned for only after the election and do the opposite (recommending groups). The divergent decisions taken by these platforms just this week – far from their first time – highlight the challenges of the EU Code of Practice on Disinformation (to which both are signatories) and the limitations of the resulting self-assessment reports.
Though the text is still very much under construction, Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency Vera Jourová hinted elegantly at our annual conference that disinformation will likely not be addressed in the Digital Services Act legislation: such content, which is not necessarily illegal, requires “the white gloves” and “a light touch”. Twitter is trying on some fairly hefty gloves this week, and yet it is still difficult to know if it will be enough. Indeed, Andrew Marantz explained yesterday “Why Facebook Can’t Fix Itself”. Too much so-called self-regulatory content moderation policy coming from the platforms seems to be managing public perception and responding to ad hoc political events – not addressing the underlying global issues. But at the same time as platforms can’t fix themselves, not everything can be solved by addressing excessive market power and illegal content. What’s next then for the European Democracy Action Plan, the “twin of the Digital Services Act” in Jourová’s words?

Events and Announcements

  • The Cyber Conflict Research Initiative (ECCRI) has announced the creation of the European Cyber Conflict Research Initiative, a space for academic and policy dialogue on cyber conflict.
  • 13 October – TEDx MidAtlantic are holding a seminar about “tribalism and disinformation”. Sign up here.
  • 14 October – EURACTIV Poland and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Poland are holding a webinar on “Russian disinformation during coronavirus and beyond”. Registration here.
  • 15 October – Data & Society is hosting a Databite on “Adtech and the Attention Economy”. RSVP here.
  • 27 October – Tarleton Gillespie will be the first guest at ‘DSA in perspective’ seminar series hosted by the VUB Institute for European Studies. Info here.
  • 3 – 27 November – Applications are still open for the first WHO training in infodemic management, an online training over 4 weeks.