available languages: english 20, 2019

Findings about disinformation in the European Parliament (EP) elections

There is little evidence of massive, covert foreign interference in social media debates before the EP elections in May 2019. While some experts found some traces of Russian activities, other pointed at the role of US-based extremists in spreading anti-democratic campaigns in Europe. However, it seems most problems resulted from activities by EU-based groups or individuals.

Monitoring of social media should not stop with the EP elections. The EU policy-making process will restart and will remain a target of disinformation. Already many campaigns are on-going to undermine effective European policy responses to pressing problems, for example, by denying the climate change emergency. As the debate on the Migration Pact showed, massive campaigns can suddenly emerge, seemingly out of nowhere.

These were principal conclusions of a roundtable on 19 June, that DRI convened in Berlin. Participants included 13 organisations and foundations that monitored aspects of the online debate, as well as representatives from Facebook and Twitter. We compared findings, methodologies and techniques of disinformation monitored. Organisations and experts represented included Avaaz, the Oxford Internet Institute, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, Cardiff University, the Weizenbaum Institute, Wahlbeobachtung.org, Correctiv, Who targets me?, Bakamo.Social, FactcheckEU, Luca Hammer, the Vodafone Foundation and the Open Society Foundation. The Mercator Foundation kindly hosted the event and the German Foreign Office supported this roundtable financially.

The participants agreed that social media monitoring organisations need to develop a more robust methodology for their work, including some basic tenets of transparency. Too often social media monitoring reports include no information on key research parameters (period of observation, sample size, what platform was observed and which tools were used). Journalists mostly lack the skills to assess the quality and significance of such reports. The participants appreciated that Twitter and Facebook participated and were ready to answer the many questions that have arisen once more in these elections.

DRI will shortly publish a full report of the meeting, which was held under Chatham House Rule. During the event, DRI and the Open Society Policy Institute for Europe launched a joint report about how Election Observation Missions could include monitoring of social media in the scope of their work and what social media analysts can learn from classical election observation

DRI work on disinformation and elections

This roundtable on disinformation and elections was the second convened by DRI. The first took place on 29 March (https://democracy-reporting.org/de/many-groups-monitor-social-media-discourse-related-to-european-parliament-elections/) and was focused on German civil society organisations and monitoring tools.

DRI also chairs a working group to develop a methodology of social media monitoring, to be published shortly.

This event was financed by the German Federal Foreign Office. DRI is exclusively responsible for its agenda and content.