Russian misinformation campaign targeted voters in EU’s 2019 elections

In a new report on efforts to battle fake news and disinformation during the recent European Union elections, officials made clear that “Russian sources” were at the heart of ongoing efforts to sow division, suppress turnout and influence voters.

The progress report from the European Commission also provided updates on work down by online platforms such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter to combat such efforts. While urging them to continue doing more, the EU study offered some rare praise for their progress.

“Ahead of the elections, we saw evidence of coordinated inauthentic behaviour aimed at spreading divisive material on online platforms, including through the use of bots and fake accounts. So online platforms have a particular responsibility to tackle disinformation,” the report says. “With our active support, Facebook, Google and Twitter have made some progress under the Code of Practice on disinformation.”

The authors noted that: “All platforms took actions in advance of the European elections by labelling political ads and making them publicly available via searchable ads libraries.”

The report card also discloses:

  • Google took action against more than 130,000 EU-based accounts found to violate its ad policies against misrepresentation and another 27,000 that violated policies on original content.
  • Facebook identified more than 1.2 million incidents that violated ads and content policies.
  • Twitter rejected more than 6,000 ads that violated its unacceptable business
    practices ads policy another 10,000 EU-targeted ads for violations of its quality ads policy.
  • Facebook disabled 2.2 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 or fake accounts.
  • Youtube removed over 3.39 million channels for violation of its spam, misleading, and scams policy, and more than 8,600 channels for violation of its impersonation policy,

For all these coordinate efforts, the report says tactics continue to evolve rapidly. And much of it seemed to originate from Russia.

“The evidence collected revealed a continued and sustained disinformation activity by
Russian sources aiming to suppress turnout and influence voter preferences,” the report says. “These covered a broad range of topics, ranging from challenging the Union’s democratic legitimacy to exploiting divisive public debates on issues such as of migration and sovereignty. This confirms that the disinformation campaigns deployed by state and non-state actors pose a hybrid threat to the EU.”

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