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June 15, 2019

Social media being used to mislead people: EU

National

June 15, 2019

BRUSSELS: Russian online outlets spread disinformation in an effort to sway voters in last month’s European Union elections, the bloc alleged on Friday in a report calling for social media firms to do more to counter such efforts or face regulation.

The EU review said there was evidence that both Russian and European online sources had sought to promote extreme views and polarise debate on divisive issues like migration and religion, a European wire service reported on Friday.

“The evidence collected revealed a continued and sustained disinformation activity by Russian sources aiming to suppress turnout and influence voter preferences,” it said.

Moscow has consistently denied it is targeting elections. However, the EU report said some 1,000 such cases were detected by a dedicated task force, whose staff was more than doubled to sixteen ahead of the European Parliament election.

The unit monitors and fact-checks reports by foreign groups but is not equipped with the tools of an intelligence agency to investigate cyber campaigns. The report’s preliminary findings said there was no proof of “a distinct cross-border disinformation campaign from external sources specifically targeting the European elections.”

EU leaders will discuss the review by the bloc’s executive and its foreign service at a summit next week. A final report is due later in the year after which EU officials said they will consider further regulations of online platforms. The EU said online platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter, whose help it enlisted in the review, must do more to combat disinformation, including sharing data on their efforts.

Ahead of last month’s polls, the world’s second largest, domestic political actors also used misinformation tactics to undermine the bloc’s democratic institutions, the report said. “It’s not necessarily about breaking the law, but it is about attempting to mislead,” Europe’s Security Commissioner Julian King said.

Bots and fake accounts were used to amplify these efforts, King said, with one such network promoting anti-Islam hashtags. Despite voluntary steps taken by Facebook, Twitter, Google and other platforms to counter malign actors, the conclusions of the EU’s review piles pressure on them to go further.

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