The Disinfo Update is your bi-weekly source of news and insights into the world of disinformation. Over the summer, we’ve adjusted the timing of our newsletter to a monthly schedule after this busy first half of year!
In the meantime, Claire Pershan – who had been the brilliant author of the Disinfo Update for 18 months -, has left the EU DisinfoLab for new adventures. It is a sad goodbye after two years working with the counter-disinformation community and digital policymakers, but she hopes readers, colleagues, and friends will keep in touch! We wish you all the very best in your future endeavour, Claire!
As usual, don’t hesitate to reach out for any news items to be featured in our next newsletter, which will be in your inboxes on August 23!
Enjoy the read, and the summer!
Disinfo news and updates
- Content moderator vs Meta. Days after Meta published its first human rights report, over 80 international organisations have signed an open letter calling on Meta to cease attempts to silence South African defender and whistleblower, Daniel Motaung, who was fired for leading unionisation efforts seeking better pay and mental health support for workers at Sama, the tech giant’s Nairobi-based content moderation subcontractor.
- Social networks and extremist content. A new study from the Global Network on Extremism & Technology highlight the use of TikTok by white supremacists to advance their far-right theories. Last week, UNESCO reported that Telegram is rife with Holocaust denial, and that malicious actors have found ways to avoid content moderation.
- Heatwave, conspiracy theories & misinformation. While temperatures have soared across Europe, climate-change deniers have used social media to spread scepticism. Shayan Sardarizadeh, a BBC journalist monitoring conspiracy theories, tweeted that some people have claimed that coverage of the intense weather is used to distract people from the real problem: Covid-19 vaccine related deaths – amongst other conspiracy theories. Other climate-change deniers have published weather maps out of context to imply forecasters are exaggerating climate change and sow misinformation.
- Misinformation as a business tactic? Logically, a social media monitoring firm, has claimed that a growing number of companies are using bots or fake accounts to run smear campaigns against their competitors on social media.
EU policy monitor
- Digital Services Act (DSA). On 5 July, the European Parliament adopted the DSA. MEPs voted 539 votes to 54 with 30 abstentions. You can read the EP Press release here. The text has now to be formally approved by the Council in September (date TBC). Afterwards, the Act will be published in the EU Official Journal and will enter into force twenty days after publication. The DSA will be directly applicable across the EU and will apply fifteen months – or from 1 January 2024 (whichever comes later) after the entry into force. Regarding obligations for Very Large Online Platforms (VLOPs) and Very Large Online Search Engines (VLOSEs), the DSA will apply earlier, i.e. four months after they have been designated as such by the European Commission, which will likely happen in the first quarter of 2023. You have questions about the DSA? Listen to the replay of our webinar on the DSA rights and tools!
- Digital Markets Act (DMA). On 5 July, the European Parliament also adopted the DMA. MEPs voted 588 votes to 11 with 31 abstentions. You can read the European Commission Press release on the DSA and DMA here. The text has also been formally approved by the EU Ministers in the Council on 18 July. It will now be published in the EU Official Journal (likely in October) and enter into force twenty days after publication. The DMA will start to apply six months following its entry into force. The gatekeepers will have a maximum of six months after they have been designated to comply with the new obligations. Now, the key question when it comes to both the DSA and DMA is enforcement. You can read the blog of Commissioner Thierry Breton on how the EU is envisioning this.
- DG CNECT is thus already restructuring. While a single unit was previously in charge of both the DMA and DSA, the files have been split. The F2 unit will remain under the leadership of the Head of Unit, Prabhat Agarwal, and will focus on the DSA and the societal aspects. The F3 unit will remain under the leadership of the Acting Head of Unit, Helen Kopman, and will focus on the DMA, more specifically on economic relationships, technology, interoperability and safety. And while there is a lot of discussion about the DSA enforcement for VLOPs and VLOSEs, the enforcement for other platforms is also not to be forgotten. Check out our webinar on this topic with Tremau and the EURACTIV podcast here.
- European Media Freedom Act (EMFA). The European Commission is working to put forward its proposal for the EMFA, expected to come out mid-September. Vice-President Vera Jourova is having consultations with representatives of the media, journalists, regulators and media freedom organisations for further input. The future proposal (either a Directive or a Regulation) will try to address some of the trends in terms of plurality and independence of media covered in the latest Rule of Law Report. It is also expected that the upcoming EMFA will cover online content moderation. It will therefore be important that the proposal takes into consideration what has been agreed upon in the DSA, and contributes to strengthening the information environment rather than creating ways for disinformation to flourish.
- Transparency and the targeting of political advertising. EP LIBE Committee last week submitted its amendments on the proposed Regulation. While competencies of the Committee are quite narrow, the amendments – which are still to be published – should echo the discussions on the DSA on the processing of personal data in ads. The deadline for IMCO draft report amendments is set to 14 September, with the vote in the Committee likely happening in December (TBC). The IMCO/LIBE also organised a public hearing on the file on 11 July. You can find the programme and the link to the recording here.
What we’re reading or listening to!
- The Keyboard Fighters. This first episode of the CrossOver podcast is at the crossroads of algorithmic investigation and field reportage. Focusing on the Freedom Convoy, guest speakers unveil the mystery around the recommendation algorithms modifying media agendas and our vision of the news.
- Russia Today on YouTube. Despite the YouTube ban on Russian state media in March, content from Russia Today is having a second life on the platform. OSINT analyst Elise Thomas from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue explores the new channel ‘Dig Deep Documentary’ and its uncanny likeness to RT.
- The Road to Stalemate. Together with data provided by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), Reuters has launched this interactive map charting the progress of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which features extensive use of open source information.
EU DisinfoLab monthly trends
Here are a few trends about the disinformation landscape in Germany, Spain and France in June provided by our Research Team. We’ll be back with our “Monthly trends” section in September!
- The Word Economic Forum held in Davos (Switzerland) was exploited by actors spreading disinformation in Germany to promote institutional distrust narratives and conspiracy theories claiming, for instance, that the CEO of Pfizer said there that his company plans to reduce the world population by half by 2023. Meanwhile, 31% of the war-related disinformation in Germany referred to national politics, for instance, attacking the German Government with misleading claims about its financial assistance to Ukraine. False quotes by the Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, Robert Habeck, also circulated. He allegedly said he would prefer letting people starve than lifting sanctions against Russia or asking Germans to work 42 hours extra per week to finance weapons deliveries.
- In Spain, June was marked by a significant political polarisation over the regional elections in Andalusia, with allegations of mismanagement of the region, content to damage the image of candidates, misleading data over employment, health or industry. In addition, harmful claims circulated, with false death threats and electoral fraud. Anti-migrants and anti–refugees sentiment spread over the tragedy that happened in Melilla and the war in Ukraine. While conspiracies on Covid-19 and Monkeypox are continuing, narratives denying climate change were more numerous than in the past months. Disinformers have used a similar modus operandi in various hoaxes: showing maps and interpreting them in their own way to push their ideology through.
- In France, many debunked items were related to French politics, with a focus on economic polarisation, such as Macron having a hidden agenda to raise the VAT. The opposition between the presidential party and the left-wing alliance NUPES (New Ecological and Social People’s Union) led to many biased, exaggerated or false mutual accusations, causing extreme polarisation of supporters on both sides. Regarding the war in Ukraine, some narratives kept spreading false accusations of Nazism, like a claim that Ukrainians hung anti-Russian stickers in Auschwitz camp. Fear mongering and economic polarisation were also recurrent, like a claim about a cholera epidemic in Mariupol, that Russia sent nuclear weapons to its borders or that the Russian oil embargo will have ‘cataclysmic consequences’ in France, as claimed by Marine Le Pen.
The latest from EU DisinfoLab
- Publications. Our Research Team ensured you’d have some insightful disinformation readings to cover your summer time!
- In his latest blogpost, Nicolas Hénin compiled and analysed 169 disinformation items related to the French presidential election and looked at what they tell us: what kind of hoaxes? How? Where? Who?
- This six months recap of the fact-checked disinformation in France, Germany and Spain will provide you with a deeper understanding of the main disinformation trends circulating at that time!
- This new Technical Document unveils the methodology our Researchers use to classify fact-checked disinformation.
- Recordings. Early July, we hosted two webinars. The replays are available here:
- This CEPA article about how the DSA opens a new era in access to justice for disinformation and online hate against the LGBTQIA+ community.
Events & announcements
- September 1: CheckFirst will disclose the findings of 22vlalapub, an analysis of political advertising on Meta, Google and Snapchat during the French presidential election. Save the date and register!
- Information Democracy is launching a new working group on pluralism online and is looking for rapporteurs. Reach out to Camille Grenier (email@example.com) for more information.
- Access Now is currently recruiting a Policy Counsel and a Web Developer.
- ActiveFence is hiring an Intelligence Project Manager and an Extremism Webint Analyst.
- EDRI is looking for a Communications and Campaigns Intern.
- The Global Disinformation Index has several vacancies, including a Research Associate and a Data Engineer.
- Inspiiro is recruiting two OSINT analysts for an institutional client. If you are interested, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org attaching your CV.
- Internews is hiring a Digital Threat Solutions Specialist.