EU–US cooperation on tackling disinformation

This report from the UK think tank Chatham House looks at the current state of disinformation and the potential for future EU-US cooperation on the issue.

Disinformation, as the latest iteration of propaganda suitable for a digitally interconnected world, shows no signs of abating. This paper provides a holistic overview of the current state of play and outlines how EU and US cooperation can mitigate disinformation in the future. EU and US cooperation on tackling disinformation needs to be grounded in an international human rights framework in order to bridge the differences of both parties and include other countries facing this challenge. The disinformation debate needs to be reformulated to cover systemic issues rather than merely technical or security concerns. A lag in regulatory development has led to systemic vulnerabilities. In this context, policymakers need to push for more evidence-based analysis, which is only attainable if technology companies engage in honest debate and allow meaningful access to data – as determined by government appointed researchers rather than the companies themselves – taking into account and respecting users’ privacy.

Data governance needs to be the focus of attempts to tackle disinformation. Data’s implications for information, market and power asymmetries, feed into and exacerbate the problem. Policymakers should focus on regulating the distribution of online content rather than the subject matter itself, which may have implications for freedom of speech. Disinformation is mainly the result of inefficient gatekeeping of highly extractive digital companies. The old gatekeepers, journalists and their respective regulators, need to be actively engaged in devising the new regulatory framework. Legacy media need to urgently consider the issue of ‘strategic silence’ and avoid being co-opted by political actors aiming to manipulate the accelerated, reactive news cycle by engaging in divisive ‘clickbait’ rhetoric verging on disinformation and propaganda. When strategic silence is not an option, contextual analysis is fundamental.

The EU delegation should assist the coordination of EU–US efforts to tackle disinformation by drawing on the work and expertise at the G7 Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM), the Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity (TCEI), the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats (Hybrid CoE), the High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation, and work with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to foster a long-term interdisciplinary forum to harness technological innovation to protect and support democracy from threats such as disinformation. The EU and US must avoid rushed regulation that may condone enhanced surveillance or vilify journalism that scrutinizes those in power in the name of security.

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