- Big Brother Coming as EU Set to Counter Disinformation Ahead of 2019 European Elections
Big Brother Coming As EU Set To Counter Disinformation Ahead Of 2019 European Elections
The European Union has adopted the Action Plan to counter suspected disinformation across the continent and beyond in the run-up to the upcoming European Parliament and national elections, and immediately sparked public concerns that such a campaign might silence dissenting voices and harm open public debate.
The announcement of the Action Plan against Disinformation was made on Wednesday. The European Commission also noted that the bloc would more than double its strategic communication budget to "address disinformation and raise awareness about its adverse impact" to a record $5.7 million in 2019.
PROTECT DEMOCRACIES AGAINST MEDDLING
Andrus Ansip, the commission's vice-president in charge of the digital single market, said that EU nations needed to join forces to protect their democracies against electoral interference. Ansip claimed there was evidence that Russia was the "Primary source" of influence campaigns, something that Moscow has repeatedly rejected as baseless.
Under the plan, EU member states plan to share data on disinformation campaigns via rapid alert system, which will be set up next March. Efforts will also be made to close fake accounts on social media, label bots and improve fact-checking.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel showed the way forward in 2015, by holding a meeting with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on the sidelines of the UN Sustainable Development Summit in New York. At that time, Zuckerberg pledged to do more to tackle hate speech, which saw a significant increase at the onset of the refugee crisis in Europe.
Since that, the European Union has put forward a number of initiatives to tackle what it called "fake news" � from the European Parliament's resolution based on a report called "EU strategic communication to counteract propaganda against it by third parties," which specifically targeted Russian media outlets, to the EU-wide Code of Practice against Disinformation.
The EU code of practice was proposed by the European Commission back in April and was published in September. Representatives of major online platforms and the advertising industry have presented individual road maps to implement the self-regulatory code of practice.
WHO DECIDES WHAT DISINFORMATION IS
According to Marco Zanni, a member of the European Parliament from Italy's Lega party, the code of practice threatens to drive many independent websites out of the market, with the recent action plan making it unclear how to qualify what is disinformation and what is not.
"The code of conduct to combat online disinformation marks a strong and dangerous precedent over freedom of expression. Who decides what is disinformation and according to what criteria? The control of online platforms, social media and advertising could cut off numerous independent blogs, chase them out of the market if they are not 'certified' as 'correct' headlines," Zanni told Sputnik.
The lawmaker also expressed concerns that the initiatives might put the lid on independent information and alternative viewpoints, and encourage the electorate to only rely on the mainstream media.
"And above all, there is the suspicion that this code is interpreted to silence distant political parties from the European establishment, by promoting 'the truth' that is proposed by the major newspapers and mainstream parties," he added.
'WISH TO SHUT DOWN ANY DISSENTING VOICES'?
The initiatives indeed come as "populist" political forces have been currently on the rise everywhere, with the ruling governments facing falling approval ratings, and certain mistrust felt toward mainstream media.
"I am very much concerned ahead of the European elections: the EU has already allocated 33 million [euros] for pro-European propaganda and obscuring dissent. I wonder if the goal is not just to discredit opponents and make available to citizens only the 'truth' that imposes the elite of Brussels," Zanni pointed out.
David Coburn, a European Parliament member from the United Kingdom and former UKIP leader, similarly believed that the goal of all counter-disinformation initiatives was actually to silence alternative viewpoints in political discourse ahead of the elections.
"Free speech is under attack from all sides and the European Commission has made it clear they wish to shut down any dissenting voices. This is the thin end of the wedge. With such measures coming into force I expect this will only worsen in the years to come," Coburn told Sputnik
Nicola Tournay, the communications director at People's Party (PP) in Belgium, in turn, described that the EU action plan to tackle disinformation as trampling on freedom of expression.
"The European "elites" are defenders of democracy and freedom, while they are the first to trample on them," Tournay told Sputnik.
He however warned against attempts to somehow restrict public debate, arguing that "democratic debate is a substitute for political violence."
"If the establishment continues to refuse this debate, there will be violence. I'm hardly exaggerating. We already see the beginnings in France, with the insurrection of the 'Yellow Vests', more and more aggressive ... If, in the aftermath of May 26 [European Parliament elections], everything continues as before, Europe will become ungovernable, with or without the supposed interference of Mr. Putin, by the sole responsibility of this establishment that did not and does not want to play fair," he clarified.
Some of "yellow vests" protests in France and Belgium are indeed a vivid example of dissent, sometimes violent, against the establishment and mainstream media, with activists often refusing to talk to media and even insulting it, claiming that they only produce "fake news." It proves once again the challenges that the bloc is facing while proclaiming the goal of fighting "disinformation" and qualifying what it actually is.