By Lewis Ogden – Fake News Website – Social Media / Flickr
The West is planning to split the Russian society and divide the Russian territories; France’s President Emmanuel Macron is a mouthpiece of the Rothschilds; The European Union is on the verge of collapse. These are only a few examples for false news and conspiracy theories spread by actors of the pro-Kremlin disinformation campaigns which are published in weekly disinformation reviews by EUvsDisinfo, the flagship project of the European External Action Service’s East StratCom Task Force. The European Parliamentary Research Service regards disinformation as an increasingly visible tool aiming to undermine Western democracies. Russia has been suspected to be behind multiple disinformation campaigns which the Kremlin denies.
An example for the Kremlin’s use of false information is the conspiracy theory claiming in the 1990s that the U.S. military created HIV as a biological weapon illustrates that this is not a recent phenomenon. However, social media and personalization tools have accelerated the dissemination of verifiably false or misleading information which non-state and state actors can use to intentionally deceive the public and cause public harm, what the European Parliamentary Research Service officially defines as “disinformation”.
Pro-Kremlin disinformation campaigns aim to polarize and create political and social conflicts and shift policies in target countries to weaken the Trans-Atlantic alliance and the European project. These campaigns explicitly manipulate human emotions and target confusion and/or fear, trigger disgust, or aim to create cynicism and apathy based on collected information about existing divisions and societal weaknesses.
By European Parliament – Constitution of the 9th legislature of the European Parliament / Flickr
Let us take a closer look at Russia’s interference into this year’s European parliamentary elections. Despite the absence of a full-scale attack, the European Union has registered a significant amount of disinformation campaigns trying to weaken the EU’s credibility and reduce the voter turnout. According to the New York Times, a network of websites and social media accounts associated with Russia or far right groups spread disinformation and conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories, such as that the Notre-Dame fire was the work of Islamic terrorists, a spy agency or a secret elite illustrate the difficulty of distinguishing the interference of the Kremlin from copy cats in the far-right or real political debate. Furthermore, there exists no precise estimates on the proportion of disinformation circulating in the European Union originating either from foreign actors or created on European territory by actors such as political parties, independent trolls or conspiracy theorists. However, the Kremlin’s tactics have been most researched.
Who exactly is behind Russia’s advanced network of web bots and trolls? Also called the Saint Petersburg Troll factory, the Internet Research Agency (IRA) has been a central part of the Kremlin’s disinformation campaigns since 2013. According to EUvsDisinfo, the IRA focuses on complex election influence operations, and has not only been expanding internally, but has also created a network of popular Russian-language media outlets reaching millions of readers every month.
How is the European Union responding to this (in)visible threat to debate culture? In a recent press release, the European Parliament announced the establishment of the East StratCom Task Force as a permanent structure, initially set up in 2015 in the European External Action Service (EEAS), and a higher budget. Furthermore, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Mozilla and Firefox signed the European Code of Conduct, “Tackling online disinformation: a European approach”, as part of the voluntary agreement on self-regulatory standards. Lastly, the European Commission released an action plan against disinformation in 2018. This shows the crucial role of social media and media corporations in the active fight against disinformation and in the political debate. Facebook, for example, works together with organizations like CORRECTIV, a Berlin-based investigative journalism startup, which fact-checks and screens material originating from Facebook.