Disinfo News and Updates

  • Russia’s Top Target. According to a report by the European Union External Action Service watchdog EUvsDisinfo, Germany is the top target of Russian disinformation campaigns in the EU. EUvsDisinfo has recorded 700 cases of deliberately fake or misleading reporting about Germany coming from Russia since 2015, compared to some 300 cases targeting France, over 170 regarding Italy and 40 for Spain. 
  • Collateral Damage. While trying to block access to Twitter last week, the Russian government accidentally blocked its own websites including Kremlin.ru, and other media domains including Reddit.com and Microsoft.com.
  • Beijing versus BBC. The BBC notes an escalation in anti-BBC articles in Chinese state media including praise for the Chinese government’s ban on the BBC World News channel and the allegation that a Uighur interviewee on a BBC programme was an actor.
  • Collective Bargaining. In the United States, the “Journalism Competition and Preservation Act of 2021” was debated in Congress last week. The legislation would allow news publishers to collectively negotiate with technology companies on revenue sharing and other agreements.
  • Content Moderation. An internal Facebook study into people’s doubt in vaccines suggests that much content that causes harm does not necessarily break the platform’s rules.

EU Policy Monitor

In the EU Institutions

  • EU Digital Compass. Last week the Commission kicked off its “digital decade” with its 2030 Digital Compass, a strategy document outlining the bloc’s tech priorities for the next ten years, composed of objectives in the areas of infrastructure, business, public services and skills. 
  • DSA & DMA. A recent study by the European Parliamentary Research Service recommends, inter alia, that the Digital Services and Digital Markets act give more authority to national regulators to intervene on problems specific to their own country.
  • Jourová on Media Freedom. During a Parliamentary debate on press freedoms in Hungary, Poland and Slovenia last week, Commission Vice President Věra Jourová expressed to MEPs “the need to widen and strengthen the toolbox that the Commission has — from financial support to regulation and enforcement actions.”

In Member States

  • Greece. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis warned young people about the dangers of social media during a parliamentary debate over police violence, as citizens have been sharing videos of police brutality. 
  • Bulgaria. The Bulgarian defence ministry’s official Facebook page was hacked last week. The ministry has created a new official Facebook page, but has shared no further details on the hack.
  • France. The Commission and Member States will have three months to comment on the French PJL séparatisme to identify possible conflict with European law, as Article 19 bis would impose an obligation of means on the largest platforms. Also in France, President Emmanuel Macron visited the French space command in Toulouse last week following a space military exercise – a cooperation with German, Italian and US counterparts – that aimed to test situational awareness and the chain of command in emergency situations, and also to deter possible enemies.

The Code of Practice 2.0

The Commission consults stakeholders to prepare new EU Code of Practice on Disinformation.

 An update from our Advocacy Coordinator Thomas Grandjouan
The European Commission is making progress in preparing its Code of Practice 2.0 – the successor to the much maligned, but unprecedented, self-regulatory tool originally launched in 2018. On the 23rd, 26th February and 2nd and 4th of March, the European Commission’s Directorate-General CONNECT ran a series of half day workshops to gather feedback, with sessions on integrity of services & user empowerment, access to data for researchers, online advertising, and KPIs & enforcement. The large platforms, and signatories of the current Code of Practice – Facebook, Twitter, and Google – did their best to prove they had enacted some policies and taken some efforts to tackle online disinformation during the pandemic, while welcoming the continuation of a soft law approach the Commission has selected. But a larger proportion of stakeholders argued for a much stricter approach. Representatives from NGOs, universities, and a handful of non-platform trade associations, called for a Code with clear KPIs to guarantee enforcement, more obligations to share disaggregated data with researchers, and more transparency on political ads. One interesting development was the support expressed by a range of actors for a new data sharing mechanism, steered by the European Commission, that would broker relations between the research community and platforms. A number of civil society organisations made it clear that for such a mechanism to be effective, researchers would need to have a role in its design as well as have the power to freely formulate a range of data access requests, which the platforms would not be able to refuse as long as all the basic security guarantees are satisfied – for example, ensuring GDPR compliance.
Having gathered the feedback, the European Commission, led by the Head of Unit Krisztina Stump, will now prepare a “Guidance” document outlining how the new Code of Practice should be designed, due in April/May, gathering another round of feedback before drafting the new Code over the summer, the final version of which is expected around Nov/December 2021.

Research, Studies, Long Reads…

  • The latest report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) draws on examples of posts recommended to users by Instagram to expose how the platform’s algorithm is publishing dangerous misinformation, from vaccine hesitancy to anti-semitic content and conspiracy theories. 
  • In Rest of World: Tiawanese social media Line’s fact-checking initiative has allowed the company and its partners to address harmful content in private messages while preserving end-to-end encryption. 
  • Lucina Di Meco and Kristina Wilfore write in Brookings on the problem of gendered disinformation targeting women in politics around the world, from the US and Europe to India and Brazil, and the implications of these tactics for national security.
  • Chirig Shah, an expert in online recommendation systems, explains in The Conversation how misleading and inaccurate results in search engines are driven by the toxic mix of “corporate profit motive and individual susceptibility”.
  • Anne Applebaum and Peter Pomerantsev reflect in the Atlantic on disinformation and democracy, from Toqueville to John Perry Barlow to today’s platforms, and what to do about it.

Events and Announcements

  • Tactical Tech has opened applications for their next round of Exposing the Invisible: Investigative Training Institute: a free four-week online training between May 3th and 31st. They are looking for participants based in EU member and candidate states. Apply here before March 22nd.
  • 23 March – The Prague Security Studies Institute (PSSI) is holding an event dedicated to the impact of COVID-19 related disinformation on the Czech public. Register here.
  • 22 – 25 March. ICANN70 Community Forum will be held as a Virtual Public Meeting. More info here.
  • 25 March – VUB Brussels School of Governance is hosting the next webinar in their DSA in Perspective series: “Transparency Rules and Data Rights for Platform Research”. Sign up here.
  • 25 March – Team CommUNITY @ Article 19 is hosting a Community Knowledge Share online workshop introducing some tools and techniques for detecting disinformation. Sign up here.