Research Fellow | University of Münster

Disinformation and Propaganda – Impact on the Functioning of the Rule of Law in the EU and its Member States

This paper analyses the phenomenon of disinformation from social, legal and communication perspectives and suggests solutions to deal with it by looking at cross-border disinformation campaigns.

Research informing summary:
Report: Disinformation and Propaganda – Impact on the Functioning of the Rule of Law in the EU and its Member States (2019)
Peer Reviewed


This research used a qualitative approach, combining comparative statistics, literature review, qualitative comparative analysis and secondary data analysis.

The methodology used was literature review, consulting reports and statistics, comparison, legal analysis and policy analysis.


Key points

  • Disinformation has been used as a political weapon, both in internal and external politics.

Disinformation exerts an impact on the functioning of democracies all over the world. Although fake news did exist before, with technology, their spreading and impact became much more effective, partly because of the personalised recommending systems. People receive disinformation which they are likely to sympathise with, which makes disinformation more effective as it is selectively spread.

We thus wanted to look at how this phenomenon impacted democratic processes and how one can put a finger on it from a legal perspective. Freedom of speech is generally protected, with some exceptions. Most types of disinformation do not fall into the illegal category, so we wanted to find if it is possible to design rules or laws to deal with this problem. And finally, find what the root of the problem is and when does it make sense to interfere to save democracy?


  • Nobody is protected against disinformation, and even educated people can fall into it. The entire media landscape has changed in a way that key pillars of truth have been shaken and that the information seeking behaviour of people is disoriented. Information comes mainly through platforms and the role of spreading information is no longer fulfilled by legacy media. It is now done in an untransparent and unaccountable way because platforms experiment all the time in how they rank information. In the follow-up paper we actually found that disinformation networks lay their foot in EU member states. It is difficult to deal with disinformation because it is more embedded in the society and it is a part of freedom of expression, thus we need to find new ways to deal with it. We know there are limits to free speech but because the harm that disinformation causes is not individual harm, unlike defamation, the legal tools are very limited. However, there is a social harm and with the use of technology we could quantify this social harm and it could be acknowledged as a harm that can justify some restrictions. If we look at the large scale, millions of people experience this malfunction of the media and sometimes you can see the political changes in voter turnouts. The research was based on findings of other researchers, media reports, statistical reports, NGO reports and laws.

What it means

Many recommendations in the paper were accepted by policy makers. For example, the EU Commission has strengthened and updated the guidelines in the Code of Practice of Disinformation. There was a new proposal in the regulation of political advertising to make it more transparent and some minor restrictions on targeted advertising.

How to use

  • Ideally, this field should be regulated at the highest geographical scope because internet platforms are global and we see disinformation acting as global as well: Therefore, I would support an international, global regulation, which currently has political obstacles.
Special thanks to Carmen Gabriela Lupu for preparation assistance

We would like to extend a special thank you to Carmen Gabriela Lupu, for their invaluable contribution in assisting the preparation of this research summary.

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Bayer, Judit. 'Disinformation and Propaganda – Impact on the Functioning of the Rule of Law in the EU and its Member States'. Acume.