Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

By funding fact-checking organizations, building up an in-house unit to counter disinformation from Russia, and enlisting social media giants, Brussels hopes to shield the 427 million people eligible to vote for the 751-seat EU chamber on May 23-26.

EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

The European Union has launched a co-ordinated fight against fake news ahead of this month’s European Parliament elections, but officials acknowledge there are limits to what can be achieved against a danger barely recognized a few years ago.

The risk is “very high,” said Lutz Guellner, one of the EU’s top officials in charge of the anti-disinformation campaign. “Just look at the past, the U.S. elections, what happened in France, Germany.”

By funding fact-checking organizations, building up an in-house unit to counter disinformation from Russia, and enlisting Facebook, Google, Twitter and others, Brussels hopes to shield the 427 million people eligible to vote for the 751-seat EU chamber on May 23-26.

Story continues below advertisement

Facebook opened a fake news war room in late April, later showing journalists around the Dublin facility, but security experts say that may be too late to uproot the seeds of doubt planted by malign campaigns to undermine one of the world’s biggest elections.

EU officials say they cannot quantify the impact of their efforts. They suffer from limited funding and institutional restraints, and are only just coming to terms with the scale of the problem. “The EU can’t have a Ministry of Truth,” said one senior EU official.

Despite the pan-European nature of the risks, the vote is held as separate elections in each of the 28 EU countries, some of which have been slow to put in place safeguards.

EU governments and NATO allies say Russia is targeting elections to undermine Western democracy. Moscow denies that.

In a case that forced EU officials to pay attention to the real-world impact of fake news, a story in 2016 about a Russian-German girl reportedly raped by Arab migrants sparked a media storm until Germany’s intelligence service established it as a Russian attempt to manipulate German public opinion.

By alerting people to examples of disinformation, the EU, like other Western governments, hopes to “inoculate” citizens against fake news, according to Heidi Tworek, a expert on information warfare at the University of British Columbia.

“Potentially we will be able to win, but not yet, because we have neglected this for so long,” Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told Reuters.

Story continues below advertisement

Because May’s elections are likely to produce a fragmented parliament, with anti-establishment parties doing well, EU officials are anxious about “bad actors” disrupting debate.

Turnout for European Parliament elections is traditionally low, making it easier for far-right and far-left groups to focus on voters favouring extremist parties via social media.

Russian media in Europe, while not successful in reaching the broader public, provides a platform for anti-EU populists.

Following a fire at Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral in April, Russian media outlets in Europe blamed Islamist militants and Ukraine’s pro-Western government.

Fact-checkers in Germany called out a fake news article circulated on Facebook about Frans Timmermans, the Socialists’ top candidate in the European elections. The report falsely claimed he wanted “mass immigration of Muslim men to Europe.”

By threatening regulation, the EU has persuaded Google and Facebook to verify election advertising on its sites, while the companies, along with Twitter and Firefox web-browser Mozilla have agreed to submit monthly reports as part of an EU code of practice.

Story continues below advertisement

Google said that in February it detected almost 21,000 EU-based Google Ads accounts that violated its new rules and sought to mislead or scam users, including 4,200 in Italy alone, Last week, Facebook took down numerous Italian accounts.

Facebook’s fact-checking operation is working with 21 partners in 14 European languages. When a story is flagged as false, it is downgraded on the social network’s news feed and pages that repeatedly share fake news can be blocked.

But the company says such efforts have their limits. “There’s so much shared on Facebook every day that it won’t be possible to fact check every single piece,” said Antonia Woodford, Facebook’s product manager.

In some EU nations, such as Hungary, there are no fact-checkers, and groups partnered with Facebook complain about the lack of data on the impact of their work, particularly as fake news spreads quickly across different platforms and countries.

“It does move pretty quickly,” said Phil Chetwynd, global editor in chief at Agence France-Presse, which is partnered with Facebook. “In most of the locations where we have put fact-checkers, we have been surprised by the scale of what we have been discovering.”

The older generation is particularly vulnerable, with people over 55 most likely to spread fake news because they grew up with the printed word and assume published information to be bona fide, EU officials say.

Story continues below advertisement

Many EU governments have yet to set up their own disinformation monitoring command posts. A much vaunted EU ‘Rapid Alert System’ meant to bring national specialists together to fight disinformation is barely used. “It’s a non-rapid, non-alert, nonsystem,” an EU official said.

However, the EU hopes that a collective effort will at least raise the costs for anyone trying to interfere. “If someone wants to do it, it will still be possible,” said Heli Tiirmaa-Klaar, Estonia’s ambassador at large for cybersecurity.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies