Disinfo News and Updates

  • Russian CyberEspionage. In part of a monthslong, large scale campaign, it appears that Russian hackers broke into the networks of multiple United States government agencies, just days after the cybersecurity firm FireEye said it had been breached by Russian actors. 
  • Google Prepares for the Vaccine. Beginning in the UK, Google is launching new vaccine information panels in its search results, with information on each individual vaccine and guidance on how to receive the vaccine.
  • Facebook removes health misinformation. Following research from the German Marshall Fund, Facebook has taken down several large pages associated with a coordinated network of websites promoting misleading health content about natural cures and vaccines.
  • Navalny Poisoning. Bellingcat released yesterday the results of their investigation into the poisoning of Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny.

EU Policy Monitor

In EU Institutions

  • Reports from the Code of Practice. Last week the Commission published its fourth set of reports from the signatories of the Code of Practice Against Disinformation, the lessons from which will certainly inform the future obligations to be set out in the Digital Services Act. Among the criticisms of these reports is, once again, insufficient EU- or Member State-level data and insufficient evidence of the impact of measures taken.
  • Algorithmic Ranking. Last week the Commission also released notice guidelines on ranking transparency, encouraging platforms and providers of intermediary services to improve the transparency of their ranking decisions. 
  • Digital Services Act. Today – (finally) – the Commission is set to release the Digital Services Act which will impose a new regulatory framework on digital service platforms that play “a systemic role in the amplification and circulation of information”. The new EU Cybersecurity Strategy for the Digital Decade is also due out today as it the review of the NIS Directive! (some lovely reading just in time for the holidays…)

In Member States

  • Austria. Last Thursday, the Austrian parliament approved a controversial online hate speech legislative package, the Kommunikationsplattformen-Gesetz.  Similarly to the German NetzDG, the legislation would force platforms to remove within 24 hours any content that has been marked as hate speech, of face large fines.
  • Poland. The state-owned oil company Orlen is set to take over 20 of Poland’s leading regional newspapers, in a move that would clearly undermine media freedom, Euractiv reports.
  • Romania. Following a vote by member states, Bucharest has been selected to host the EU’s new cybersecurity center, the European Cybersecurity Industrial, Technology and Research Competence Centre (ECCC).
  • France. Parliamentary report on counterfeiting calls for review of the legislative framework, including the establishment of an administrative procedure for website blocking, domain name suspension, and fines. Also in France, the PJL séparatisme, France’s controversial bill to address radical Islam and so-called “separatisms”, was adopted last week by the Council of Ministers and will now be put before a special commission.

Indian Chronicles Media Update

Last Wednesday, we released our investigation Indian Chronicles, which uncovers a sprawling 15-year influence operation targeting the EU and the UN, leveraging 750+ fake local media and 10+ ‘dead’ NGOs. Our findings have since been reported by the BBC, Politico, Euractiv, AP, Reuters, AlJazeera, and others, – appearing in English, French, Spanish, and German. Here is a snapshot of the coverage:

  • In Brussels, Politico Europe focused on the actors behind the operation’s EU ‘honeypot’, the media outlet EU Chronicle – the same actors who were behind the outlet EP Today last year: Madi Sharma (See our 2019 investigation here). 
  • On Euractiv, MEP Angel Dzhambazki, who is cited as one of the authors of EU Chronicle content, declared that he never “submitted any text” and is “looking into legal actions to resolve this issue”.
  • In their reporting, AlJazeera reached out to Peter Stano, lead spokesperson for EU external affairs, who said that “the expose will be raised during the EU-India Strategic Partnership dialogue”.
  • Talking to Reuters about our report “UNHRC spokesman Rolando Gomez said the organisation would look into these specific allegations, and that it was aware a number of accredited groups were pursuing their own political agenda or those of governments.”
  • The Associated Press covered the geopolitical fallout of the investigation, with Pakistan and India exchanging mutual accusations of spreading disinformation.
  • The BBC spoke with MEP Daniel Freund, who said that: “there is little incentive to respect the rules when the worst that can happen is to file a declaration after you have been caught”.
  • At the United Nations in Geneva, Le Temps uncovered how Indian Chronicles paid students in cash to speak on behalf of fake NGOs at the UN Human Rights Council. And Nicolas Quenel and Antoine Hasday of Les Jours explain in two articles just how these students were recruited.
  • In France, Le Monde focused on some of the techniques leveraged by Indian Chronicles to produce their content (identity theft, fake media…). and Javier Albisu has the story in Spanish for EFE

Other media outlets are continuing to report on our investigation. Follow along with us on Twitter!

Research, Studies, Reports

  • GLOBSEC has released their latest report, GLOBSEC Trends 2020 which looks at the impact of COVID-19 narratives in Central and Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans.
  • Tactical Tech’s Data and Politics Project has partnered with organisations around the world to examine the Influence Industry. They share their latest update on these initiatives.
  • Internews, in collaboration with Panos Caribbean, has released an assessment of the information ecosystem in Port-au-Prince Haiti, looking at issues like access to information, the tools for information dissemination, and what type of information is needed.
  • Researchers Irene V. Pasquetto and Briony Swire-Thompson invited fellow researchers to submit 250 words on “the research that they would hypothetically conduct if they had access to consenting participants’ social media data”. Here is their commentary published in the Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review.

Events and Announcements

  • 17 December – The Trust & Safety Professional Association is holding a workshop-seminar on the development of trust and safety policies, with reps from Facebook, Dischord, and the Wikimedia Foundation. RSVP here.
  • RightsCon (June 7-11, 2021) the annual event organized by Access Now, is accepting proposals between now and January 19th. 
  • Article 19’s most recent campaign #KeepItReal aims to empower 18-25 year olds in Ireland on the topic of disinformation and Freedom of Expression into the public sphere.