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Russia used social media to keep EU voters at home, report finds

Russia used social media to keep EU voters at home, report finds


EU released an update on battling disinformation

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A circle of 12 gold stars representing the European Union.
Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Russia-linked sources are using social media in an attempt to influence elections in the European Union, according to a new report on disinformation released today by the European Commission, just one month after parliamentary elections in the union.

The report, an update on a continuing plan to battle disinformation, said some progress had been made in deterring malicious campaigns. Officials said plans to tackle disinformation campaigns through a task force had shown progress, and that work with tech companies had also stemmed the tide of false information.

“Continued and sustained disinformation activity”

The report said it could not “identify a distinct cross-border” attempt to specifically target European elections. But, the report also found, “evidence collected revealed a continued and sustained disinformation activity by Russian sources aiming to suppress turnout and influence voter preferences.” The activity included challenging the EU’s “democratic legitimacy” and exploiting controversial topics like immigration, with actors using images like the Notre Dame Cathedral fire “to illustrate the alleged decline of Western and Christian values in the EU.”

According to the report, the number of disinformation cases attributed to Russian sources doubled between 2018 and 2019, jumping from about 430 in January 2018 to nearly 1,000 a year later. While Russia was singled out for the efforts, the EU said “other external actors were also involved.”

Last month, Europeans voted in EU-wide parliamentary elections, an event that raised concerns about potential foreign influence operations. The report found that the EU had successfully stopped many of those operations. Still, the report cautioned against “complacency.”