The European Union versus external disinformation campaigns in the midst of information warfare: Ready for the Battle?

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Series Details Volume 2019, Number 1
Publication Date August 2019
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As a result of increased globalisation and digitalisation, new security challenges emerge such as the rise of online disinformation which undermines democracy and people’s trust in mainstream media and public authorities. The 2016 United States presidential elections, the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom and the 2017 French presidential elections have all been disturbed by external interference coming
from Russia, including massive disinformation campaigns which were disseminated on social media to influence citizens’ opinion.

This paper studies the European Union’s (EU) strategy to counter external disinformation campaigns in cyberspace, i.e. the campaigns that are diffused online by foreign actors, such as Russia, within the EU’s territory. To what extent is the EU strategically prepared to counter external disinformation campaigns in cyberspace?

The EU has adopted a defensive strategy to deal with disinformation. It has delivered several strategic documents, including an Action Plan in December 2018, that provides a promising basis for action. The work done by the East StratCom Task Force, which detects and debunks Russian narratives, is a strong asset for the EU. The major online platforms are currently trying to implement a Code of Practice that the European Commission has set up with the aim of curbing disinformation spreading on social networks. Having a long-term perspective in mind, the EU rightly implements measures to enhance societal resilience and improve media literacy among its citizens.

However, the financial resources dedicated to counter disinformation are not commensurate with the threat it represents. Furthermore, the EU’s approach is not focusing enough on artificial intelligence tools that can significantly influence how disinformation is carried out and disseminated but can, on the other hand, also help fact-checking activities. Hence, the EU is not entirely prepared to counter external disinformation campaigns in cyberspace. Moreover, disinformation should be looked at in the wider framework of hybrid warfare and should therefore be considered as a cybersecurity matter.

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