News Brief

Populism not Propaganda the Real Target of EU’s Anti-Fake News Unit

A senior European official has said that the real goal of European Union-funded initiatives to combat disinformation is to prevent populist movements from winning elections, according to Britain’s Channel 4 News.

Earlier this month, EU officials announced they were increasing their budget for combating falsehoods and propaganda to $5.5 million in a bid to protect next year’s European parliamentary elections from info-war style attacks, particularly from Russia.

But a senior parliamentary official quoted by the news channel said the primary aim of the EU’s counter-disinformation program was to stop nationalist-populist politicians winning seats in next year’s vote.

Speaking to journalists at a conference in Brussels, Belgium, Ramón Luis Valcárcel Siso, the European Parliament’s Vice President, said: “Your efforts are indispensable so that anti-democrats don’t win at the ballot boxes.”

Valcárcel Siso admitted that this might be construed as propaganda, but said European unity needed defending. “We are not trying to impose any political ideology through these institutions,” he is reported to have said. “What we are trying to do is safeguard a system which serves the interests of 500 million citizens.”

The public face of the EU’s counter-disinformation work is its “EU vs. Disinfo” website, which looks not only at factual accuracy, but also at whether Kremlin narratives are being repeated.

Set up three years ago, it regularly debunks falsehoods disseminated by pro-Russian sites, but it has also been accused of going too far. In February, three Dutch news sites sued the EU after it had accused them of spreading Kremlin disinformation, causing the EU to withdraw all the claims.

The Dutch parliament then passed a resolution calling for EU vs Disinfo to be abolished.

The website is still in operation, however, having just debunked a story about a robot that appeared on Russian TV. The robot was revealed to be a man in a suit.