News Brief

Russia denies meddling in the 2019 European Parliament elections in wake of EU report

Russia has denied participating in a disinformation campaign after the European Commission released a preliminary report, saying it had found evidence that sources from the country meddled in the European elections, which took place at the end of May.

The report, published on Friday, found “continued and sustained disinformation activity” by Russian groups to spread disinformation on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, aiming to “suppress turnout and influence voter preferences”. These attempts included online sources promoting extreme views on hot voter topics, including migration, sovereignty and religion.

However, Alexander Venediktov, Russian security council deputy secretary, was quoted by Rossiyskaya Gazeta as saying, “Statements made in the Western media that Russia was allegedly deeply interested in the victory of right-wing parties during elections to the European Parliament are completely absurd.”

The European parliamentary elections saw a rise in nationalist parties, including Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party in the UK and the Swedish Democrats. However, it is impossible to directly link disinformation campaigns with voting habits, particularly in the light of a similar number of voters moving from centralist parties to greens and liberals.

During the run up to the election, social media sites and member state governments attempted to block the spread of fake news with countries setting up “swat teams” and Facebook creating a “war room” in Dublin.

However, the report called for social media platforms to do more to prevent the spread of disinformation. The Commission has said it will review the voluntary codes of practice for platforms and “should the results of this assessment not be satisfactory, the Commission may propose further initiatives, including of a regulatory nature”.

There has been an increase in the complexity of disinformation campaigns in recent years with governments and tech companies struggling to keep up with blocking the spread of fake news. Russia was accused of meddling in the 2016 Brexit referendum as well as the presidential election in America. Looking ahead to the 2020 presidential election in America, experts are now worried about what further interference could mean for future elections.