Russia’s ‘orchestrated’ disinformation campaign aims to destabilize EU democracies


Facebook has told the Government’s fake news inquiry it will expand its investigation into whether Russian agents attempted to influence the Brexit vote. The social media giant previously said it found just three ads linked to the Russia-based Internet Research Agency (IRA), and they were viewed by just 200 people.

The company told the digital, media and sport select committee that it would broaden an investigation into advertising that may have come from Russian sources to general activity from suspect Facebook accounts during the referendum campaign “that was not identified previously”, The Financial Times reports.

Europe needs to bolster defenses against Russian meddling substantially ahead of upcoming elections, notably by spending much more, MEPs argued Wednesday during a plenary debate in Strasbourg, POLITICO adds:

The EU already has tools to counteract Russian influence. The External Action Service’s East StratCom task force works to root out and identify Russian disinformation, while the European Commission is due to publish a broader European strategy against disinformation in April.

But some MEPs say such tools are not enough. East StratCom has around a dozen staffers and €1 million in funding — a fraction of the estimated €1 billion that Russia spends on propaganda and disinformation, said Spanish European People’s Party MEP Esteban Gonzáles Pons. East Stratcom needs “adequate funding and increased personnel” to do its job properly, argued David McAllister, a German MEP for the European People’s Party.

Stefan Löfven, Sweden’s prime minister, this week announced plans for a new authority focused on “psychological defense” to counter disinformation, The FT adds. “A modern version of total defense must be able to protect [the country] from external attempts to influence democratic society,” he said.

The European Union on Wednesday accused Russia of pumping out thousands of pieces of disinformation in an “orchestrated strategy” aimed at destabilising the bloc. EU Security Commissioner Julian King gave the European Parliament an unusually blunt assessment of the scale of the Kremlin’s propaganda efforts, according to reports:

“There seems frankly little doubt that the pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign is an orchestrated strategy, delivering the same disinformation stories in as many languages as possible, through as many channels as possible, as often as possible,” he said.

“This conclusion is based on two years’ work by the EU’s East Stratcom Task Force, which has gathered more than 3,500 examples of pro-Kremlin disinformation, contradicting publicly available facts, repeated in many languages on many occasions.”

Many respectable academics, authors, journalists, and politicians see nothing wrong in accepting invitations from RT, the Kremlin’s $300 million-a-year propaganda outlet, notes CEPA’s Edward Lucas, who is campaigning to discourage people from doing so. But they are putting their own egos and self-interest ahead of a much more important cause: protecting the political system which allows them to put forward their diverse and sometimes mistaken opinions, he contends.

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