Since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke in 2018, the possibility of malicious actors using social media to affect the outcome of popular elections has loomed large. Now, the European Union (EU) has released a report indicating that Russia tried to interfere in its recent election via social media. Furthermore, the report noted new laws might be necessary to stop the spread of disinformation through Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
The EU’s Report
On June 14, the European Commission (EC), the EU’s investigative body, submitted a preliminary report indicating Russian linked groups tried to influence the outcome of its May elections. Officials noted foreign agents utilized the world’s most popular social networks to spread false information and exacerbate social divisions. The agency indicated that the interference efforts aimed to aid various far-right political parties and causes.
The EC also noted non-state actors have taken to using social media for propaganda purposes. The organization stated that subversives changed their tactics with the EU election. Instead of fabricating incidents, disruptors tried to tie in real life events to existing conspiracy theories. For instance, the agency reported the collapse of the Austrian government and the Notre-Dame Cathedral fire were used to assert the existence of a “European deep state” and the decline of Western civilization.
As the EC won’t complete its report until the end of the year, the scope of Russian interference in its latest election is unknown. However, the agency detected voter suppression and influence efforts in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, and Spain.
In total, the organization revealed it found more than 1,000 incidences of Russian meddling in EU politics since January.
The EC’s preliminary report did offer some praise for the social media sector’s attempts to stop the dissemination of fake news. The organization found that Facebook alone wiped out more than 1,700 accounts, groups, and pages dedicated to manipulating EU voters. However, the agency ultimately stated its efforts were insufficient. The commission explained social platforms are failing to detect the increasingly sophisticated methods of malicious actors who abuse their sites.
Furthermore, the report indicated social platforms couldn’t be depended on to police themselves in the face of state-sponsored disinformation campaigns.
The organization didn’t offer up any specific modifications to existing EU law. However, the region’s lawmakers would likely amend the General Data Protection Regulation, the framework that protects EU citizen data. Presently, the legislation dictates how companies can utilize the data of EU citizens.
The commission’s recommendation is only the latest incident highlighting the mounting tension between international lawmakers and social media corporations.
Earlier this month, Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters suggested the agency be allowed to snoop on encrypted end-to-end messages. In May, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg enraged Canadian legislators by refusing to appear before Parliament. Furthermore, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern recently announced plans to spearhead a global crackdown on harmful content distributed by social platforms.
As the 2020 U.S. presidential election grows closer, Facebook has also faced increased scrutiny from American intelligence agencies. In January, Dan Coats, the director of National Intelligence, warned that China, Iran, and Russia would likely interfere in the next election to further their interests.
In April, Mark Zuckerberg said he was “confident” his company could manage electoral interference efforts in Election 2020. However, the EC’s report suggests the billionaire may be overrating his firm’s competency.