All Along the Algorithm: With social media platforms’ business models based on algorithmic content curation, the phenomenon of disinformation echo chambers has become a mainstay in political discourse. Considering its implications for the security of European citizens and for the democratic processes within the Member States, what steps can the EU take to mitigate this threat?

Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection

Chaired by Mihaela Chiujdea (FI)

Topic Pitch

Online disinformation, created either for commercial or political gain, is disseminated through social media and fueled by an anti-establishment trend in European politics that creates a demand for alternative narratives. Its threat to democracy stems from its ability to sway public opinion through deception. It makes use of fear, insecurity, societal divisions, and ideological polarisation, and regardless of the empirical facts behind the story, it gives its readers the satisfaction of reading something that confirms their worldview. Bearing in mind that attempts to combat the spread of disinformation risk exacerbating the anti-establishment feeling that fuels disinformation in the first place, what could be done to improve them and protect democracy?

The Present


These tendencies, along with a continually rising voting abstention rate, demonstrate a systemic rejection of political elites and the ‘system’ among a significant segment of the French public. This trend creates an opportunity for the fringes and extremes, particularly the far right, which has attempted to transform these “anything but Macron” responses into votes for Marine Le Pen, leveraging these resentments to appeal to a larger audience. This also demonstrates how some far-right and sovereignist right-wing actors have made disinformation concerning COVID-19 as well as conspiracy theories significant aspects of their political discourses, aiding in the spread of this material into more public spaces.

Stakeholders/Key Actors

The European Digital Media Observatory

EDMO brings together fact-checkers, media literacy professionals, and academic scholars to better comprehend and analyse disinformation, in conjunction with media organisations, internet platforms, and media literacy practitioners. EDMO has set up a platform to aid the work of a diverse community with experience in the field of online deception and will contribute to a better knowledge of disinformation’s important actors, tools, tactics, dissemination dynamics, targets, and societal impact.

European External Action Service

EEAS has greatly increased its capacity to confront the disinformation crisis since 2015, when the issue first surfaced on the political agenda of the EU. It has been creating and enhancing the mechanisms against disinformation, all while developing more accurate knowledge and diagnoses of the issue. It has collaborated closely with other EU institutions, Member States, international organisations including the G7 and NATO, media outlets, journalists, and private sector companies.

The Directorate General of Democracy and Human Dignity

DGII supports the Council of Europe in areas that are crucial for the sustainability of democracy. These areas include ensuring that human dignity is respected without discrimination following human rights standards and improving democratic processes in Europe’s societies.

EU DisinfoLab

EUDL is a young, independent NGO that specialises in investigating and combating sophisticated disinformation tactics that are directed at the EU, its fundamental institutions, and its core principles. The EUDL aims to strengthen the information ecosystem by exposing disinformation operations, bringing attention to disinformation-related issues, and gathering and supporting civil society’s resilience to disinformation.

The Reboot Foundation is a Parisian non-profit organisation that provides a variety of materials to promote media literacy. Its website includes a Parents’ Guide to Critical Thinking as well as a Teachers’ Guide to Critical Thinking, used for teaching children media literacy at home and in school.

Legal Framework/Measures already in place

EUvsDisinfo is a flagship project formed in 2015 to better foresee, address, and respond to the Russian Federation’s continuous disinformation activities affecting the European Union, its Member States, and nations in the shared neighbourhood. Its primary goal is to raise public awareness and comprehension of the Kremlin’s disinformation activities, as well as to assist citizens in Europe and beyond in developing resistance against digital information and media manipulation.

For the first time, the 2018 Code of Practice on Disinformation gathered together global industry players to commit to countering disinformation. The Code, which is at the heart of the EU’s strategy against disinformation, has shown to be a successful instrument for limiting the spread of internet disinformation, notably during election seasons, and for responding promptly to crises such as the coronavirus outbreak and the war in Ukraine. After its revision, the 2022 Code of Practice intends to become a mitigating measure and a Code of Conduct recognised by the Digital Services Act‘s co-regulatory framework.

A website called Learning Zone Against Disinformation was created to provide teachers in the Member States with a library of presentations outlining what disinformation is and how to handle it to instruct pupils. The toolkit consists of a teacher training manual and an editable presentation with real-world examples and group activities.

A government plan in Spain to combat disinformation has drawn criticism from the media and the opposition, who claim it restricts free speech and aims to create a “ministry of truth.” The National Security Council approved the strategy, which went into force in October 2020, and specifies how the foreign and defence ministries, as well as the intelligence agency CNI, should respond to disinformation. The strategy specifies four action steps, beginning with monitoring the internet to find disinformation efforts and concluding with a potential “political response” from the government if it is judged required.

The Future

Conflicts/Key Challenges

Challenging democracy1

Disinformation is appealing to illiberal politicians because it provides an easy way for extremist rhetoric to compete with and eventually stifle informed, rational discourse. As news agencies compete for readers in a media climate where revenue is heavily dependent on the number of interactions a story may produce, there is a desire for headlines that are ever more dramatic or spectacular. By creating doubt and ambiguity to such a degree that citizens become overwhelmed and unable to determine what is actually true, it can also cause political apathy – when separating fact from fiction demands too much effort or knowledge, a typical response is to completely avoid politics. Citizens who experience this kind of disillusionment may even start to doubt democracy itself. Therefore, one of the foundational pillars of democracy is challenged by the abundance of inaccurate information online.

Echo Chambers2

The “echo chamber” effect might drastically limit the kinds of news people who primarily rely on social media for their news intake. Users are only provided with a small range of views on most social media platforms since they are shown content that is similar to what they have already liked. There are now many different individualised information spheres where there was once a single public place controlled by rival media. The clickbaiting strategies frequently conflate the categories of news and entertainment, blending in with the social media landscape where it is impossible to distinguish between updates from friends, lighthearted content, and important news. The only thing that matters is that every piece of material, whether it be a hilarious video, serious news story, or a friend’s holiday photos, elicits an emotional response. Outrage, terror, or jealousy are typically easier to arouse than more positive feelings, making them the most effective kind of “fake news” for a particular audience.

Intended public’s opinion shift3

Foreign actors with malicious intent to plant and spread false information, manipulate online content, and discredit the debate with “alternative facts” could make use of an organised army of “paid trolls” – each controlling multiple online profiles – in order to confuse and confirm the public’s sense of doubt or influence the target audience on a particular issue. Today, for instance, Russia employs deceptive influence operations to further its geopolitical goals. These operations involve security services, TV stations, private and public corporations, think tanks, social and religious organisations, but mostly social media and internet trolls. Political, religious, and cultural organisations are employed as tools to undermine societal cohesion and infiltrate decision-making bodies, while disinformation operations are organised to attack public officials, independent media, and democratic institutions. The fact that Russia Today continues to draw viewers – 43 million in 15 different European nations – shows that there remains an undercurrent of unhappiness with conventional news that can be relied on.

Measures Ahead

The European Media Freedom Act proposed new measures to defend the EU’s media pluralism and independence. They will ensure that media, both public and private, can operate more effectively across borders in the EU internal market, without excessive pressure, while also taking into consideration the media’s digital development. 

The Digital Services Act (DSA) considerably enhances the systems for removing illegal content and for effectively defending users’ fundamental online rights, including the right to free speech. Additionally, it strengthens government regulation of online platforms, especially those that reach more than 10% of EU citizens. By 17 February 2024, when the DSA is generally set to go into effect, EU Member States must designate their Digital Services Coordinators. Each Members State’s new DSC will serve as a crucial regulatory hub, ensuring coherence and digital competence.

Dutch to step up response to external threats: The Dutch government claims that collaboration with other countries increases opportunities as well as threats. The administration also stated that although additional steps are required to address China’s unwelcome influence, other nations must not be overlooked. There are four strategies to respond to dangers suggested by the reinforced approach: taking proactive measures when Dutch public interests are threatened, fostering and defending economic and information security, thwarting unauthorized foreign involvement, and defending democratic institutions.

Mapping Digital Rights Violations and Fighting Disinformation in Central Europe is an ambitious two-year programme led by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network that aims to combat disinformation and propaganda by developing a unique regional Digital Monitoring database. The project’s goal is to increase the general community and government understanding of existing internet threats in the region, as well as to start essential policy reforms.

Tech Corner:  Echo chambers only provide one viewpoint on a topic, and that opinion is bolstered by rumours or inadequate information, while facts opposing it are suppressed. Wherever someone goes online, algorithms track what they prefer to click on. These algorithms will continue to show them content based on what they believe they’ll like until they’re only giving them content they’ll likely consume.  A fake news story is prompting readers to post it on social media platforms without examination. Sharing the article exposes it to other people who may be offended by it and, in turn, share it without hesitation, and so on. This cycle will continue until a significant percentage of individuals believe this fabricated story is true.

Useful Links

a video from the European Commission, in which Roberto Viola, Director-General of DG CONNECT, and Lutz Güllner, Head of EEAS Strategic Communications, talk about a comprehensive kit for dealing with fraudulent online posts.

More Turbulence Ahead for Twitter as the EU’s Digital Services Act Tests Musk’s Vision – an article from Just Security underlining the issues Twitter and its owner, Elon Musk, could face in the EU during the applicability of the DSA.

a video from the European Parliamentary Research Service where Naja Bentzen, an EPRS policy analyst, explains the issues related to disinformation and democracy in three key questions
a short video by Ted-Ed presenting the phenomena of circular reporting and how it aids in the dissemination of incorrect information.
a video by Channel 4 News presenting the crisis in democracy because of external threats, fake news, and manipulated data.

Guiding questions

  1. What could be done to reduce the spread of untrustworthy information, given that democracy is about making choices, which requires a well-informed debate?
  2. How could the general public have access to the multiple perspectives of an issue while remaining objective about them?
  3. How could the public be more informed on particular issues and easily recognise deliberate fake news outlets?