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

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Research Fellow

Faculty of Law, Governance and Administration

University of Münster

My background is media law, where my main interest has been how media regulation can enhance the media’s democratic role, freedom of expression, media freedom and pluralism. my specific fields are disinformation, media freedom and pluralism in the european union, strategic litigation against public participation, and online hate speech. my take on these issues is unique because i combine my background in communication science, political science and law.

About

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.

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?

Key Findings

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.

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.

Want to read the full paper? It is available open access

Bayer, Judit and Bitiukova, Natalija and Bard, Petra and Szakács, Judit and Alemanno, Alberto and Uszkiewicz, Erik, Disinformation and Propaganda – Impact on the Functioning of the Rule of Law in the EU and its Member States (April 22, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4090610 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4090610

About this research

Natalija Bitiukova

Petra Bard

Judit Szakács

Alberto Alemanno

Erik Uszkiewicz

This research was independently conducted and did not receive funding from outside of the university.

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UN Sustainable Development Goals

This research contributes to the following SDGs

About this research

This research was independently conducted and did not receive funding from outside of the university.

This paper was co-authored

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Natalija Bitiukova

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Petra Bard

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Judit Szakács

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Alberto Alemanno

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Erik Uszkiewicz

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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.

Methodology

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

Glossary

Democracy
its core value is that all citizens in a society get involved in common decisions.
Disinformation
is strategically disseminated content that manipulates people’s minds with a hidden intention, a strategy, and thus dangerous for democracy.

Let your research make a social impact

Carmen Gabriela Lupu prepared this research following an interview with Dr Judit Bayer.