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Disinfo News and Updates

  • Misogyny on TV’Visegrad Insight looks at how Belarusian and Russian TV channels seek to discredit Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (Belarusian human rights activist and opposition candidate in the 2020 election), and portray her as a dependent  protegé of “Western puppeteers”.
  • Norway attributes cyber-attack. Norway has accused Russia of a cyber-attack that took place in August on the Norwegian parliament’s email system. Russia has denied the accusations. Incidentally Microsoft’s September Digital Defense Report found that Russia accounts for over half of the world’s nation-state cyber-attacks.
  • National Black Cultural Information Trust. In the U.S., the newly formed National Black Cultural Information Trust seeks to counter dis- and misinformation targeting Black voters.
  • Youtube policy update. YouTube announced it will ban misinformation related to Covid-19 vaccines. They will also be banning QAnon conspiracy videos that target a person or group.
  • Regulating ‘big tech’Japan will join the US and Europe in efforts to reign in ‘big tech’. Meanwhile the U.S. House of Representative released a major report on competition.
  • Resource for advertisers. The Global Disinformation Index has assembled a primer for brands and advertisers to help them understand and adapt their role in the disinformation ecosystem.

EU Policy Monitor

In Member States

  • 5G conspiracies. Yesterday, 15 EU member states called on the EU executive to address the dangerous anti-5G conspiracy theories which have led to arson attacks against telecommunications masts. The letter was led by Poland.
  • Joint DSA position by France and Netherlands. In a common position released last week, France and the Netherlands called for preventive measures targeting so-called ‘structuring platforms’. The agreement sends a strong signal between two countries that normally clash head-on during EU negotiations on digital policy (notoriously on the EU’s digital tax).
  • Hate speech in France. The French audiovisual regulator, the CSA, has decided on four working groups for its observatory of online hate
  • Copyright in Germany. A draft of the German copyright bill allows for upload filters, even though the government promised otherwise.
  • Media plurality in Poland. Poland’s culture minister has called for state-run companies to buy up media outlets “wherever it is possible”.

In the European Parliament

  • MEPs Call for a Multi-Million Euro Funding Project for News Media. A joint letter signed by leading MEPs and Europe’s MediaLab (part of Fondation EURACTIV), calls on Commissioners Thierry Breton and Vera Jourova to bundle the EU’s projects on media literacy, media ownership, and fact-checking, into a new programme called NEWS (“News in Europe Working Sustainably”), potentially benefitting from equity funding from InvestEU, the EU’s €75bn flagship investment programme for 2021-2027. The MEPs want Commissioner Breton to use the upcoming Media and Audiovisual Action Plan (MAAP), expected to be released on December 2, the same day as the EDAP and DSA, as a tool to move in this direction. 
  • Foreign interference Special Committee (INGE). This coming monday (Oct 26) at 9am, the Special Committee on Foreign Interference including Disinformation (INGE) will hold its next meeting. According to the Special Committee’s Chair, Raphaël Glucksmann, the session will focus exclusively on examples of interference in the European public debate directed from outside the EU. During its previous meeting on Oct 3, EU DisinfoLab was invited as the first external organisation to give evidence. Three representatives from EU DisinfoLab presented the “InfoRos” case to Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), in which two information portals, “ObservateurContinental.fr” and “OneWorld.press” were connected to a Russian news organisation with links to Russian military intelligence (GRU). MEPs from the five main political groups (EPP, S&D, Greens, Renew, ECR) welcomed the results of the investigation and asked the EU DisinfoLab how the European Parliament can better help fund organisations countering disinformation in Europe. See here to watch the session.
  • The Greens on notice-and-action mechanisms. The Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament is drafting a text to provide a basis for a currently lacking EU notice and action mechanism. You can give your feedback before November 1st.
  • Plenary Session. With the European Parliament (exceptionally) taking place in Brussels this week, MEPs will vote to adopt the institution’s positions on the Digital Services Act and Artificial Intelligence rules. In two separate reports, MEPs are calling for the European Commission to introduce binding “notice-and-action mechanisms” to tackle illegal content online, and on AI, the MEPs call for an EU approach founded on human rights, with safeguards against bias and a right of redress for users.

Research & Studies

  • COVID-19 and journalism. Led by Julie Posetti, Emily Bell, and Pete Brown, The Journalism and the Pandemic Project published a large-scale survey mapping the impacts of COVID-19 on journalism worldwide, which also seeks to inform responses to the crisis.
  • Trust in Media. Ipsos  and The Trust Project have released “Trust Misplaced?”, a report on the key factors influencing the future of trust and truth in the media, from nationalist and populist sentiment, to quality news access, to technological developments, to disinformation.
  • Correcting Conspiracies. Africa Check, Chequeado and Full Fact have produced new research briefings exploring two major issues for fact checkers globally: conspiracy theories and communicating uncertainty.
  • Media monitoring in Kyrgyzstan. Memo98 released their monitoring report mapping coverage of the disputed Kyrgyz parliamentary elections on Facebook and Instagram.
  • Disinformation in Nagorno-KarabakhBellingcat examines two videos that circulated on Azerbaijani Telegram channels on October 15, which have since been removed,and which the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defence maintains were staged.
  • Chinese InfoOps. The last installment of TeamT5’s Information Operation White Paper looks at Chinese Information Operations directed to global audiences. Team5G is a Taiwan-based cybersecurity company focusing on cyber threat research. 
  • Russian InfoOps. Bloomberg’s Alberto Nardelli cites EU DisinfoLab’s InfoRos study in a recent article “Russian Information Attacks Keep Hitting the EU’s Weak Spots” (Oct 19).
  • QAnon in the USA. An investigation by Logically reveals that many QAnon communications are being hosted and channeled under the control of 8chan message board operator Jim Watkins, through the US-based company VanwaTech (Vancouver, Washington State).

Eye on Encryption

The “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance (The United States, Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand), joined by India and Japan, demanded in a statement last Sunday that tech companies insert “backdoors” in encrypted apps for law enforcement agencies. Meanwhile, a document circulated by the German Presidency of the Council of the EU on 18 September, declared the weakening of encryption undesirable, and asks to find “legal and technical solutions” and to build a common EU polisiton, through dialogue with service providers, experts, and member states. Considering that closed messaging networks will soon become one of the world’s most used communications tool, strong encryption will be more important than ever to safeguard the data and privacy of internet users.

Not Your Average Hack-and-Leak

The New York Post hack-and-leak story about Hunter Biden snowballed last week. This now inescapable story is at once a lesson in propaganda reporting, in the politics of content moderation, and in the velocity and chaos of the media landscape. While the story is still rolling, here’s a timeline of the main events:

Wednesday 14 October.

  •  The New York Post published a story making allegations about the Democratic candidate Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden. The origins of the material for the story are unclear, allegedly obtained from a hard drive of a computer used by Hunter Biden which was dropped at a repair shop in Delaware last April.
    , Rupert Murdoch), as well as on Facebook and Twitter.Poststory was promoted by Trump and media outlets like Fox News (under the same ownership as the Post The
  • That same day, Twitter and Facebook restricted the story according to respective company policies. Facebook applied its viral misinformation policy. Twitter blocked the story much more aggressively, preventing users from sharing links to it in tweets and direct messages in an (albeit very strong) interpretation of their hacked materials policy, though the choice was also justified by dubious sources and unredacted personal information.

Thursday 15 October.

  • The US Senate Judiciary Committee threatened to subpoena Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testify on the decision. (The CEOS of Facebook, Twitter, and Google are already scheduled to testify before the committee on October 28th).

Friday 16 October.

 Lots to say about this, and certainly more to come. First, It’s worth noting the Post continued to publish stories relying on the unverified archive; it seems criticism of this journalistic responsibility has not been nearly as loud as outrage at the platforms for enforcing their policies – even if we can blame the platforms for a ‘Streisand Effect‘. Meanwhile, the US media ecosystem may be particularly susceptible to this kind of problem: Emily Bazelon makes the comparison to the “Macron Leaks” during the French election in 2017, which did not result in major media attention because of a lack of tabloids to run the story. Finally, Thomas Rid recalls that this remains, in part, a story about possible foreign interference, an angle which federal investigators are examining.

Events and Announcements

  • Between Nov-Dec and again between Jan-Feb, Tactical Tech is organising a three-week online workshop for civil society investigators across the European Union, “Exposing the Invisible Investigative Institute” (Deadline Nov 1st). See the call for applications here.
  • This year’s 15th Internet Governance Forum (IGF) will take place virtually. Register here before 26 Oct. 
  • 14 Jan. Data & Society will host a workshop titled Against Platform Determinism which seeks to “acknowledges but does not fetishize the power platforms possess”. Apply before 21 Oct. More info here.
  • Participation is still open for the UNESCO/UNDP consultation dedicated to disinformation, “Forging a Path for a Better Information Ecosystem”. Info here.