Good morning, Disinfo Update readers! 

Welcome to your bi-weekly newsletter, offering you a curated selection of news, events and announcements in the disinformation field.

Amongst these highlights, you’ll find in today’s edition the latest about the media exemption in the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA), and how, as a community, we must continue fighting to have the Swedish compromise proposal on Article 17 rejected and the Article itself deleted. Also on the must-read list: the new Online Operations Kill Chain, and the February fact-checked disinformation trends from our research team.

And a final recommendation: don’t miss this afternoon’s webinar with Lucina Di Meco, who will present the latest #ShePersisted! study, “Monetizing Misogyny”, together with Anna Fejős and Maria Giovanna Sessa! 

Enjoy your read!

Disinfo news & updates

  • TikTok. Amongst growing security concerns of Chinese surveillance and with bans implemented globally by institutions and government preventing staff from using the app from their work devices, TikTok has launched Project Clover on 8 March. This initiative aims to create a “secure enclave for European TikTok user data”, by keeping European user data in Europe and allowing a regional security company to “audit [its] data controls and protections”, announced the social media platform.
  • Congrats! The CrossOver project, which aims at analysing the algorithms of social networks against disinformation in Belgium, will expand its activities for a year across seven new French speaking countries.

Brussels corner: let’s bring our voices together!

Media exemption. While everyone focuses on whether the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA) should be a regulation or a directive – or perhaps a compromise between both -, media exemption is making its way into the European Parliament Committees in charge of the EMFA file. The draft Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) opinion by MEP Geoffroy Didier calls for a 48-hour period before platforms can do any content moderation – possibly including fact-checking -, and deletes any references to the Digital Services Act (DSA) systemic risks. MEP Sabine Verheyen, lead MEP of the Culture and Education (CULT) Committee, seems to be very supportive of these ideas. When reportedly asked by Politico about disinformation risks, she said that “this legal act is not an act against fake news and disinformation. It’s an act to guarantee media freedom”. But disinformation precisely impacts media freedom. Following the input it recently  received from Member States, the Swedish Presidency is yet to come up with an updated Council compromise proposal on article 17. However, it doesn’t seem like there were many complaints about the current media exemption language.
Let’s continue our work and ask that the Swedish compromise proposal on Article 17 is rejected and the Article itself is deleted!

What we’re reading

  • Kill chain. Last week, Ben Nimmo, Global Lead, Threat Intelligence at Meta, and Eric Hutchins, Security Engineer Investigator at Meta, released the Online Operations Kill Chain, a new model to analyse online operations, cybercrime, spam, and more. 
  • A year later. The International Republican Institute (IRI)’s Beacon Project has analysed 23 million articles and posts from the media environment of several Central and Eastern European countries and shares here the key narratives that could undermine support for Ukraine. 
  • Russian propaganda disguised as fact-checking. According to this new investigation by Logically, Timofey Vasiliev, a former journalist and presenter of a Russian propaganda show, is behind the popular Russian “fact-checking” website and Telegram account, “War on Fakes”.

This week’s recommended read by

Maria Giovanna Sessa, Senior Researcher at EU DisinfoLab, recommends delving into #ShePersisted’s new report “Monetizing Misogyny” on how gender-based disinformation is undermining women’s rights and democracy globally. Its author, Lucina Di Meco, will present the Italian and Hungarian case studies during our webinar on March 21 (register here). This Voxeurop piece on how gender and feminism became a mainstay of the right-wing discourse offers food for thought following International Women’s Day. Finally, an upcoming publication to keep an eye on is Eviane Leidig’s “The Women of the Far-right” on how some women content creators have weaponised influence culture to glamourise and mainstream far-right propaganda. As fascinating and concerning as the #TradWife trend on TikTok!

EU DisinfoLab February trends

Highlights from our February monitoring of fact-checked disinformation in France, Germany, and Spain include:

  • Most hoaxes found in France by fact-checkers were about the war in Ukraine (almost a third of total hoaxes circulating), and most of the narratives are pro-Russian. In particular, there is a claim that “NATO changed its ‘collective defence clause’ on 15 February“. Three years after the first lockdowns, Covid-19 continues to be a major misinformation topic. Anti-vaccine narratives still account for a significant proportion of them, with claims such as “a million French victims of myocarditis following the Covid vaccination“. Natural disasters, including the earthquake in Turkey and Syria, were the background for several highly viral hoaxes.
  • Disinformation about the war in Ukraine returned to the forefront in Germany, with hoaxes publishing questionable casualty figures, or denying Ukrainian sovereignty. An anti-war initiative that appeals to extreme left and right-wing factions is increasingly polarising civil society, with narratives fueled by disinformation. The controversy and disinformation surrounding Seymour Hersh’s article accusing – without conclusive evidence – the US of attacking the Nord Stream pipeline, echoed by many media, was particularly striking. The earthquake in Syria and Turkey gave rise to multiple and diverse hoaxes. From falsely contextualised videos or photos for clickbait purposes to conspiracy theories about alleged actors involved in the earthquake, and even pro-Russian propaganda. 
  • In Spain, decontextualised content around the earthquake in Turkey and Syria predominated, together with alarmist hoaxes such as the explosion of a nuclear power plant allegedly caused by the natural disaster. The earthquake was also used to undermine Zelensky’s image. Misleading information, mainly spread by politicians, in the context of the upcoming regional elections have been circulating. The so-called Trans Law continues to be at the core of disinformation attacks, as well as the reform of the Criminal Code on animal abuse. Regarding the war in Ukraine, relatively new disinformation narratives have been spreading, such as Borrell claiming that the EU is Ukraine’s army or that the UK recruits Ukrainian refugees. There were many hoaxes spreading around the chemical spill from a train in Ohio, the Chinese “spy” balloon or the shooting down and attacks of alleged UFOs

The latest from EU DisinfoLab

  • ICYMI. Watch the replay from this inspiring webinar with Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, who reminded us that, at the time when Members of the European Parliament and Member States are pushing to exempt all publishers from content moderation, “If you allow the Gateway Pundit to be a publisher, if you allow a neo-nazi publication to be a publisher, then what’s the point of your legislation?”
  • Gender-based disinformation webinar. Curious to learn more about monetizing misogyny and the role of the media in spreading online hate and disinfo in Italy and Hungary? You’re (just) in time to register to our webinar (3:30 – 4:30PM CET) this afternoon with #ShePersisted

Events & announcements

  • 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!
  • 23 March. EDMO BELUX event in Brussels, “Analysing tools against disinformation” (in French). 
  • 25 March. VUB Symposium “A question of truth”, in Brussels (1:30 – 6PM CET). 
  • 27 March. Register to this “Shaping our Digital Future: Tackling Disinformation in the EU, case of Central and Eastern Europe” conference.
  • 30 March. Third edition of the Trust in News webcast, an event that brings together experts in disinformation, verification and open source journalism.  
  • 5-7 April. Fifteenth edition of FIC 2023, the International Cybersecurity Forum which will take place in Lille, France.
  • 20 April. BENEDMO webinar on “Making fact-checks work” (3 – 4PM CET). 
  • 26 April. The European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO) is hosting a webinar “Information Governance and Institutional Trust in Digital Societies: Lessons Learned, Unlearned, and Emerging Best Practices” (3 – 5PM).
  • 21-22 June. You can now book your ticket to Cybersec Forum/Expo which will be hosted in Katowice. 
  • ICYMI. The first EDMO BELUX Lunch Lecture, “Measuring and defining informational vulnerability: a proposal at the intersection of psychology, political science and media studies” took place on 6 March. Watch the replay

Job opportunities

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