Disinfo News and Updates

EU Policy Monitor

In the EU Institutions

  • Portuguese Presidency to tackle hate speech. The Portuguese government has been vocal about their goals to combat hate speech, incitement to violence and radicalisation on social networks during their Council Presidency, which began on January 1st. Beyond progress on the many EU digital regulation packages, actions include a Digital Assembly, to take place in Lisbon in June, where Portugal will present its Digital Rights Declaration. 
  • Commission report on GDPR implementation. The European Commission has released a report assessing the implementation of the regulation across the EU with a focus on certain key provisions. “The emerging picture of implementation attests not only to the different legal approaches taken by the Member States, but also to the varying degree of specification of the relevant provisions of the GDPR. One particular feature that easily stands out is the adoption by Member States of derogations and restrictions.”

In Member States

  • Spain. Spain’s health ministry will release an interactive WhatsApp channel to address Covid-19 vaccine related false information and hopefully reduce vaccine hesitancy.
  • Poland. Poland’s justice ministry is preparing a ‘freedom of speech protection’ bill that would prevent the administrators of social media websites from deleting posts and banning users. Administrators would only be allowed to delete posts or suspend users regarding content that violates Polish law. The law would also establish a ‘freedom of speech council.’
  • Slovenia. After warning from Brussels, the Slovenian government announced that it has restored the financing of national news agency STA. Right-wing Prime Minister Janez Janša had halted funding to the STA in December. The European Commission warned all member states last week against attempts to pressure the media, saying public media “play a special role in the European Union”.
  • France. The French ‘Separatism Law’ will be under special committee review this week. It aims to transpose elements of the Digital Services Act in advance, and returns elements of the controversial ‘Avia’ law. The government has also expressed its intentions to address conspiracy theories.

5G, Twitter and YouTube: The Challenge of Moderating Conspiracy Claims on the Origins of COVID-19

EU DisinfoLab has released our latest research on Covid19 and disinformation, part of our Covid19 hub, an online resource designed to provide research and analysis from the community working on disinformation. This blogpost focuses on content moderation shortcomings on Twitter and YouTube, and follows our earlier research on the loopholes in the enforcement of Facebook policies. In particular, we show that disinformative claims that wrongly link COVID-19 and 5G technology often remain undetected. Among our key findings:

  • While content moderation efforts are continually improving and scaling up, they still remain insufficient and sometimes excessively slow. This leads to false information remaining on these platforms for months before it gets labelled or removed.
  • Content moderation is a delicate balancing act, frequently resulting in unintended errors. For instance, insufficiently mature  automated moderation algorithms can be counterproductive, as in the case of Twitter adding a fact-checking label to all tweets mentioning 5G and coronavirus, even though they were not in violation of their company policy.
  • Disinformation has important international and cross-platform reach. Although our primary focus is on English-speaking content, we observed 5G-coronavirus hoaxes from 20 countries on 4 continents, transmitted and amplified through a number of social networks. 
  • Narrative-wise, misinformation about the health dangers of new technology is old news. This is why it is critical to deal effectively with all false information,  since it has the capacity to reappear and cause harm months or years later.

Research, Studies, Long Reads…

  • The National Endowment for Democracy released a collection of essays on “COVID-19 and the Information Space: Boosting the Democratic Response”, the result of a series of multi stakeholder workshops held last summer, edited by Dean Jackson. 
  • The Partnership for Countering Influence Operations at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has released a report mapping worldwide initiatives to counter influence operations, reduce duplicative efforts and increase efficiency.
  • The Oxford Internet Institute has published their annual inventory of information operations, “Industrialized Disinformation: 2020 Global Inventory of Organized Social Media Manipulation”
  • The GLOBSEC Trends 2020 report, drawing on opinion polls from 9 countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans, finds that people’s willingness to get vaccinated against Covid-19 rises with their trust in public authorities.  
  • A recent report by the news rating company Newsguard finds that more than 1,600 brands, from Disney to Procter & Gamble, have advertisements running on sites that push pro-Trump conspiracy theories – the majority of which are served by Google.
  • A joint effort from the National Association of Broadcasters, the Reynolds Journalism Institute and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores has produced a COVID-19 vaccine toolkit for journalists.

Events and Announcements

  • 20 January – The next episode of the ALDATalks series, organised by the European Association for Local Democracy, will focus on “Fake News and Digital Literacy”. More info here.
  • 25 January – The Wilson Center’s Science and Technology Innovation Program is holding a release event for thier report, “Malign Creativity: How Gender, Sex, and Lies are Weaponized Against Women Online”. RSVP here.
  • 26 January – The deadline has been extended to submit your proposal for RightsCon 2021, which will take place online this June. More info here.
  • 26 January – #PrivacyCamp21 will take place from 10.00 – 16.00 CET. Check out the draft agenda and register here