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EU countries beef up anti-disinformation efforts ahead of European elections

A man walks out from a passageway at the railway Central Station in Brussels, 10 May 2019
A man walks out from a passageway at the railway Central Station in Brussels, 10 May 2019 Copyright AP Photo/Francisco Seco
Copyright AP Photo/Francisco Seco
By Euronews
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Russia and China are reported to have manipulated the online space in previous elections in Europe and elsewhere, including the 2016 US presidential vote.

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Belgium and Poland are the latest in a line of European countries that are rapidly moving to limit disinformation and protect national security as more governments on the continent take the Kremlin's alleged "malign influence" seriously.

In Warsaw, a special commission tasked with investigating Russian and Belarusian influence in Poland began its work on Wednesday, Prime Minister Donald Tusk announced.

At a news conference in the Polish capital, Tusk and other officials described the commission as a non-partisan body of experts whose aim is to protect national security.

In May, Tusk ordered the establishment of a commission to investigate Russian and Belarusian influence from 2004 to 2024.

He and other Polish officials said the country is facing intensified hybrid attacks from Russia and its neighbour and ally Belarus that include alleged acts of sabotage, cyberattacks and growing pressure along the Poland-Belarus border.

Meanwhile, Belgium's Cyber Command — part of the country's military — has been on heightened alert ahead of the 6-9 June European elections.

Specialists like Tom (name changed to protect his identity) are tasked with sifting through online content over time in order to spot disinformation and alert its partners and relevant authorities.

"What we're looking to detect are anomalies, as you might call a sudden increase in the number of posts or retweets or likes on a particular subject, or the appearance of new players," Tom, who works as an analyst at Cyber Command, said.

EU wants its own shield against Moscow and Beijing's meddling

Allegations suggest that Russia and China have manipulated the online space in previous elections in Europe and elsewhere, including the 2016 presidential election in the US.

Malign influence has also been observed during almost all major crises in recent years, including the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2024, but also in muddying the waters on domestic issues in individual countries, using false claims, propaganda materials and made-up narratives to affect everything from the 2017 Catalan independence crisis to the recent European Parliament "Russiagate" scandal.

Yet, it is a game of constant catch-up, as methods change and evolve over time, making the combat against a round-the-clock job.

"We're interested in seeing the practices, techniques and procedures used by foreign players to understand and detect manipulation. We can see that this is increasingly the case," Deputy Commander of the Cyber Command Pierre Ciparisse said.

"Methodologies are evolving. We used to talk about boots and oil, but now it goes much further. There are relays between different social media. It goes through the use of artificial intelligence. It goes through marketing techniques and the use of influencers who are paid to get certain messages across," Ciparisse explained.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen once more made clear the gravity of the situation, reiterating the need for a common European disinformation shield on Monday during her visit to Sweden.

Von der Leyen's shield would be tasked with detecting and removing online disinformation — building on the work of the EU's digital rulebook, the Digital Services Act (DSA) — and "inoculating" the bloc against malign influence by enabling Europeans to recognise threats.

The Commission chief raised the proposal in mid-May for the first time, as the bloc braced for a massive wave of disinformation and malign interference in the run-up to June’s European elections.

Additional sources • AP, EBU

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