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EU warns of pro-Kremlin disinfo on coronavirus pandemic

The European Unions diplomatic service this week alerted officials that Russian trolls are spreading falsehoods about the coronavirus in Europe, using the health crisis “to sow distrust and division.”

In an “information environment assessment” dated March 16 and seen by POLITICO, the EU External Action Services East StratCom office said it had collected 80 coronavirus-related disinformation cases on popular media channels in Europe since January 22.

Disinformation reports include “claims that the coronavirus was brought to us by migrants, or that it is a bio-weapon developed by either the U.S., the U.K. or China,” the note said. Other false theories include that the virus originated in the U.S. and that it is linked to 5G technology, it added.

“In Israel, a prominent narrative is that of the coronavirus being yet another crisis coming from Europe,'” the note added.

The office said the Russian government wasnt authoring the fake news articles but rather had amplified false theories and disinformation that come from elsewhere, including from American far-right groups. It remains unclear how far these Kremlin-backed false reports have spread, and analysts say the majority of misinformation is currently spread by normal people on social media.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters that “were talking again about some unfounded allegations which in the current situation are probably the result of an anti-Russian obsession.”

Among media sources consulted in Europe, the Spanish version of RT, a Russian government-funded media group, popped up as the 12th-most-shared source for corona-related news on social media. The contents of the EUs misinformation report was previously reported by the Financial Times.

Russia on Wednesday denied the reports allegations that it was spreading disinformation, Reuters reported. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters that “were talking again about some unfounded allegations which in the current situation are probably the result of an anti-Russian obsession.”

Facebook, Google under fire

Politicians criticism of big online social media platforms like Facebook and Google have risen again as these platforms seek to push back on disinformation about coronavirus spreading on their pages.

Germanys Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht said she expected social media to “live up to their responsibility and clearly prioritize trustworthy and relevant information.”

But the system is working during the coronavirus outbreak, alerting authorities to two cases of disinformation.

Meanwhile Facebook, Twitter and Google have said they would rely more on algorithms to stop the spread of fake news as human moderators are sent home.

“Online platforms have taken strong measures to combat corona-related misinformation and disinformation. However, they do not do enough to systematically share data and statistics with researchers and others,” the East StratCom note said.

The European Commission is expected to come out with an evaluation of its Disinformation Action Plan, which it launched in the run-up to the 2019 European Parliament election.

Part of that action plan was creating a Rapid Alert System, which drew criticism in recent months because of its lack of action in alerting authorities about ongoing campaigns.

But the system is working during the coronavirus outbreak, alerting authorities to two cases of disinformation, one about a U.S. soldier allegedly infected in Lithuania and one about the Slovak prime minister allegedly being infected.

Russia as a megaphone

The ongoing misinformation underscores how Kremlin tactics have evolved, from creating original content to amRead More – Source

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