At the heart of the discussions on 13 and 14 June in Brussels was the European Digital Media Observatory’s (EDMO) engagement in the fight against online disinformation regarding the war in Ukraine. On the first day of the conference, EDMO also delivered its report on access to platform data for researchers to the cabinet of EC Vice-President Věra Jourová.
“Congratulations on your second birthday, dear Digital Media Observatory. This second year has proven that EDMO found its place in the fight against disinformation across Europe and is expanding its activities.” With these words, European Commission Vice-President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová, opened her keynote speech to the participants in the fully booked event.
“Unfortunately, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine we see even more clearly that disinformation poses a substantial and ongoing threat to our democracies,” continued Jourová. “EDMO is also fully mobilised. (…) its Ukraine taskforce also supports researchers in the attempt to get access to online platforms datasets which are essential in understanding disinformation actors and tactics. This is appreciated.”
In recent months, EDMO has focused on identifying the main disinformation trends concerning the war in Ukraine. The first panel discussion was dedicated to this topic and featured a group of high-level experts discussing research, patterns, and trends of ongoing disinformation campaigns on the ground. Christine Buhagiar from AFP and member of the DEFACTO Observatory in France gave insights into how the news agency reported on the massacre of Bucha, underlining the importance of linking findings obtained through technology with evidence gathered on the ground.
Professor Miguel Maduro, Chair of the EDMO Executive Board said: “EDMO strengthens European actors that fight disinformation, helping in the creation of a more resilient public sphere. That’s its ultimate goal and it does that by supporting actors who work on fact-checking, on researching disinformation, and actors that improve media literacy.”
The event also set the stage for the delivery of the report of the EDMO working group on Platform-to-Researcher Data Access to the cabinet of VP Jourová. The report includes a draft Code of Conduct on how platforms can share data with independent researchers while protecting users’ rights. Working Group Chair Rebekah Tromble, Director of the Institute for Data, Democracy, and Politics at George Washington University, handed over the document to Daniel Braun, Deputy Chief of Cabinet of Vice-President Jourová.
“The outstanding issue is access to data for research purposes, which is the key to better understanding the phenomenon of online disinformation and create greater transparency around the actions that online platforms take against it. The EDMO report on the code for access to data for researchers has given us some clear indications and we expect to see in clear measures for online platforms for that can be swiftly implemented,” said Giuseppe Abbamonte Director in the European Commission’s DG CNECT in his keynote address. He referred to the strengthened code of practice on disinformation that was released after the conference.
This was also the first item on the agenda of the second day of the conference, as experts from academia, policy-making and the private sector discussed developments in the run-up to the revised code. Krisztina Stump from EC DG CONNECT explained that the code will be stronger thanks to stakeholder cooperation. She also thanked EDMO for its contribution to increased collaboration in the field of research.
Other topics discussed included issues of disinformation around the Covid-19 pandemic, the relationship between neuroscience and disinformation, and national and multinational efforts to strengthen media and information literacy. Paul Verschure from Radboud University and member of the EDMO Advisory Board spoke in his keynote about the volitional brain in a compulsive world of disinformation and the neural processes that underlie resilience and vulnerability to disinformation. In this context, he underlined the impact of algorithms on human’s mental well-being.
“I am convinced that we are only at the beginning of a journey. It is more likely to get worse before it gets better, and we all need you. That is also the purpose of this conference, we need your input, we need your thinking, because we can only do all this together,” stressed Professor Madeleine de Cock Buning, Chair of the EDMO Advisory Board.
At the conclusion of the conference, EDMO Programme Director, Lauri Tierala gave an outlook on EDMO’s activities in the coming months stressing that while the five original tasks of EDMO are either completed already or well on their way, the project’s next phase will necessitate an even higher level of ambition to meet the challenges.