For the first time, the EU is setting aside funds to tackle the alarming Russian fake news. The money is not huge, around 5 million, but it means the bloc has officially recognised that Russian disinformation or propaganda is a serious threat that needs to be tackled in the long run. No policymaker will publicly admit that there are concerns about the EU elections in 2019. But we have all read reports about the alleged impact of Russian fake news on the US election, the Brexit referendum and Catalonia. Everyone is focusing on Russia’s growing political meddling in the Balkans or on the renewed fears among Eastern European countries, including Ukraine. Interestingly enough, sources in Brussels stress that North African countries which happen to be under Russian influence will also be part of that new anti-fake news project.
The top EU privacy watchdog, the European data protection supervisor Giovanni Buttarelli, will publish an opinion on fake news next year. EU regulators are looking into how to fight fake news on different fronts: not only through counter-information or codes of conduct on removing illegal information online, but also now on data protection. Buttarelli met EU digital Commissioner Mariya Gabriel on Wednesday and discussed the issue with her.
But looking at the proposal for the Parliament’s communication strategy for the 2019 EU election, one can also see that Brussels’ fear of Russian fake news is being used by ‘well-wishers’ in the member states. There are many EU politicians willing to adopt a no holds barred rhetoric based on fake news in the name of the fight against the old corrupt establishment.