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Europe on alert against manipulation of information

It is a guarded danger like milk on fire, between European heads of state, in the same way as Brexit, or the risk of trade war with China or the United States. The risk of manipulation of information is one of the haunts of the Twenty-eight, which had put the subject on the agenda of the European Council of 21 and 22 March.

In their conclusions, the leaders called "To further strengthen coordinated efforts to tackle the domestic and external aspects of misinformation and to protect European and national elections throughout the EU".

Europe entrusts the reins of the fight against misinformation to platforms

"Insufficient" efforts

The urgency is as strong as the balance of power is disloyal. A thousand Russian agents would work in a "Troll factory"in St. Petersburg to spread false information about other world powers. Opposite, the East Stratcom Task Force, created in 2015 to counter these attacks, brings together only a few dozen civil servants.

Hence the reaction, in December 2018, of the European Commission, which has more than doubled the resources of the "Strategic communication" between 2018 and 2019, from 1.9 million to 5 million euros. Some efforts "Insufficient" had immediately tempered Andrus Ansip, vice president in charge of digital.

In a forum distributed throughout Europe, Emmanuel Macron proposed, on March 3, to create a "European agency for the protection of democracies" who "Provide European experts to each Member State to protect its electoral process against cyber attacks and manipulation".

But for now, the Europeans have not caught the ball. "There is no resistance to the idea, it is rather consensus, but the contours of this agency are very vague. Will it be technical or editorial, with what means? For the moment we do not know »explains Nicolas Arpagian, expert in digital security (1).

A code of conduct signed by Facebook, Google and Twitter

There is already a European technical cybersecurity agency responsible for network and information security, ENISA. But its location in Crete, Heraklion, which makes it very geographically distant major centers of decision of the continent, as well as its low budget – 11 million euros per year – says a lot about the credit granted to him . The brand new "Early warning system" between European and national institutions to share and analyze attacks in real time is located in Brussels.

Among the weapons to be countered, there are the operations of "Bots" (software robots) on social networks. The EU executive has signed a code of conduct for large online platforms (Facebook, Twitter and Google) to close false accounts still active and report "Non-human interactions". But their first reports in February provided "Too little information"regretted the Commission.

Attacks from all sides

Misinformation campaigns do not come only from the East. Former US President Steve Bannon's advisor, a close associate of national billionaire Robert Mercer, today offers his services as a consultant to Italian, French and Belgian far-right parties in the European elections. "The manipulations start from where there is already a favorable breeding ground, even if to appropriate victories which are not necessarily attributable to it", warns Nicolas Arpagian.

For the expert, however, there is no country more exposed than another. "Just having a connected company is enough to be in the viewfinder. The European Union focuses on citizen awareness and education. She is probably right. For there is no better bulwark than human intelligence to disarm lies. "

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Media and social networks on the front line

To be more effective in their tracking of misinformation during the campaign of the Europeans, nineteen media from thirteen countries (including, in France, Agence France-Presse and the daily Libération) have jointly launched a collaborative platform, called FactCheckEU (www.factcheckeu.info). It is a matter of verifying doubtful information and answering the problem created by fake news circulation across borders.

Pressured, Internet giants like Twitter, Google or WhatsApp also say they want to better control their content, without always convincing. Facebook, the main channel for spreading false news, is the most criticized. The group says it seeks to maintain a balance "between freedom of expression and the need for reliable information." On March 29, he launched an advertising transparency device, supposed to avoid interference in the European campaign.

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