Disinformation and propaganda: It’s all political!
The disinformation and propaganda campaigns in the European Union (EU) are inexplicably tied to the political parties that misuse the tools of mass media communications to spread fear and deceit (Euractiv, 2021). The media exemption currently debated within the scope of the Digital Services Act (DSA) that would prevent digital intermediaries from interfering with content posted by media outlets is an early Christmas present to the disinformation agents, as it would enable them to continue with their propaganda production, fueled by algorithmic distribution.
The disinformation and propaganda campaigns in the European Union (EU) are inexplicably tied to the political parties that misuse the tools of mass media communications to spread fear and deceit (Euractiv, 2021). These disinformation campaigns often mimic regular media outlets and journalistic formats, which help them spread vitriolic content amongst unsuspected media consumers.
What’s even worse – because the disinformation outlets are tied to political parties, they can get back-door access to local and EU public funds that are channeled through opaque advertising deals.
The media exemption currently debated within the scope of the Digital Services Act (DSA) that would prevent digital intermediaries from interfering with content posted by media outlets is an early Christmas present to the disinformation agents, as it would enable them to continue with their propaganda production, fueled by algorithmic distribution.
For example, the case of Nova24TV in Slovenia, a propaganda outlet founded by the right-wing parliamentary party in 2015 and paid for in part with shady money (Necenzurirano, 2021). Nova24TV has a registered address, a TV studio and »reporters« who work for the outlet full time.
The ownership of the outlet is split between the right-wing party and businesses, tied to the Orban regime (SiOL, 2017). Labeled as an alt-right hate factory (Vox Pol, 2018) that produces hit pieces on the opposing public figures (Vox Europ, 2021), politicians (Politico, 2021) or anybody who opposes their propaganda (Equal times, 2020), the media outlet is registered in the Slovenian Media Registry, enabling them to apply for government media grants and other public money sources.
Although Nova24TV does not have the relevant market share (The L Files, 2020), its effect on public opinion is big, since articles get promoted by party members and members of the government. Social media giants help them with the algorithmic distribution and even though the content has been labelled as lies in several instances (Ostro, 2021), they are free to operate and share their content without any hindrance. And in some cases, such content reaches even international audiences. (Politifact, 2018)
The effectiveness of the party-backed propaganda outlets is evident in the increased spread of these outlets in other countries as well. (Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, 2021). A key feature in this business model is that the outlets are attached to many facets of public money that are not subject to consumer pressures. This, for instance, has proven to work quite well in the UK (PR Week, 2021) and USA (Fortune, 2017).
The role of digital intermediaries is essential as it provides an out-of-the-box distribution network that spreads propaganda content far and wide. Additionally, recaps of the articles and sentiments that underline this type of content are echoed by social media users which then amplify certain conspiracy theories, started by these propaganda outlets.
Algorithmic hate optimization is even seen in some of the search engines.
If you Google or Bing my name (and I mean that literally as search results differ if you use a search engine like DuckDuckGo or Yahoo! Search), you will find the Nova24TV propaganda hit pieces very high amongst the search results. Allowing these entities to continue to write complete lies and then use the digital tools to spread them far and wide defeats the purpose of the fight against disinformation and propaganda, that is one the key reasons for the Digital Services Act reform in the first place.
If the European Comission and the EU Parliament are therefore serious about addressing the issue of propaganda, fake news and disinformation campaigns, they should take a long hard look at political ties to the media industry and address the issue of media ownership while simultaneously assuring that the digital intermediaries are kept in check. After all – it’s all political!
Image credit: Pia Danner, p*zwe, Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)