No room for complacency

Article written by Duncan Barry – Executive, Communications & Events
Published on The Malta Independent – 13.07.19

A myth circulated in Germany that children would not be able to attach their letters to Santa Claus to their town’s Christmas tree, as is customary. Malicious actors used the fire in the Notre Dame Cathedral to illustrate the alleged decline of Western and Christian values in Europe. The political crisis and the subsequent collapse of the government in Austria were falsely attributed to the ‘European deep state’, ‘German and Spanish Security Services’ and individuals. Stories were also circulated about the irrelevance of European Parliament’s legislative powers and its control by lobbyists aimed to suppress the voter.

These are all forms of fake news or disinformation aimed at attacking Europeanvalues and to bring uncertainty among European citizens.

During the European Council meeting last month, EU leaders discussed, among other salient issues, a report on disinformation and hybrid threats within the EU compiled under the Romanian Presidency which ended its Presidency term at the end of last month.

The European Commission, along with the European External Action Service (EEAS) and Member States, made it a key priority to address potential threats to secure safe and fair European elections and to help strengthen the resilience of the EU’s democratic systems.

The record-high turnout in the recent European Parliament elections (the turn-out was the highest in two decades) shows how engaged Europeans want to be in shaping the future of the EU. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to protect citizens from disinformation aimed mostly at generating uncertainty, like for instance to sway voters and suppress the election turnout to cite an example. The EU has learnt a lesson from past disinformation campaigns instigated by malicious third parties and is being proactive in its approach by calling for sustained efforts between Member States and to raise awareness on fake news, increase preparedness and strengthening the resilience of the EU’s democracies.

One of the conclusions of the European Council read: “The evolving nature of the threats and the growing risk of malicious interference and online manipulation associated with the development of artificial intelligence (AI) and data-gathering techniques require continuous assessment and an appropriate response.”

The report hints that an enhanced joint effort is needed between EU institutions and Member States and includes the need for adequate human and financial resources to better detect, analyse and expose disinformation campaigns and raising preparedness to address disinformation campaigns at EU and national level. The Commission has recommended that Member States adopt the same approach at national level.

The report also states that the private sector, in particular online platforms, have a particular responsibility in tackling disinformation as well.

Some interesting statistics
From the beginning of this year, online platforms started taking action against inauthentic behaviour to limit the scope of spam and disinformation globally. Google reported to have globally removed more than 3.39 million Youtube channels and 8,600 channels for violations against its spam and impersonation policies. Facebook disabled 2.19 billion fake accounts in the first quarter of 2019 and acted specifically against 1,574 non-EU-based and 168 EU-based pages, groups and accounts engaged in inauthentic behaviour targeting EU Member States. Twitter challenged almost 77 million spam-like or fake accounts globally.

To conclude, the EEAS and the Commission, together with Member States, will further strengthen cooperation within the Rapid Alert System, including developing a common methodology for analysis and exposure of disinformation campaigns and stronger partnerships with international partners, such as G7 and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation(NATO).

The European Commission and the High Representative of the Union are committed to continue their joint efforts to protect our European democracy from disinformation and manipulation. It is our shared responsibility to safeguard EU citizens’ right to factual, objective and reliable information.

Click here for the full report.

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