Sunday

18th Aug 2019

Opinion

EU needs election-meddling stress tests

  • EU elections are the target of disinformation and manipulation (Photo: secretlondon123)

In 170 days, Europeans will go to the polls, but the right to freely choose their representatives is under threat.

With election after election facing hacking and manipulation, no-one should be naive about what is at stake in Europe.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Marietje Schaake is a Dutch liberal MEP (Photo: ALDE)

The European Commission has proposed an action plan to EU leaders meeting in Brussels. It is a modest step in recognising, and acting on the threat.

Its practical and limited focus is a reflection of the time left in this commission's mandate and the disparate approach to the scale and shape of this challenge in EU member states.

Against that backdrop, a Rapid Alert System, a sharp eye on the platforms, and an increase in the meagre resources, will all make steps in the right direction.

However, will member state authorities blindly label the action plan as an undue involvement from Brussels and continue this patchwork of approaches?

After all, the whole of the EU is only as strong as the weakest link.

At this week's European Council, all EU27 governments must commit to making this Action Plan a baseline to step up their individual and collective actions, to face the threat to people's democratic rights head on and to build resilient solutions.

EU states should begin with stress-tests of electoral infrastructure.

Stress-tests are an established EU method to spot potential systemic weaknesses in anything from nuclear power facilities to banks.

The stress-tests could measure the security and resilience of election infrastructures and technologies.

There is already a compendium on cybersecurity of election technology that can serve as a benchmark.

The NIS Cooperation Group, which the EU created two years to combat IT threats, can serve as a good future forum to assess the challenges in this field on a rolling basis.

The stress tests should lead to a map indicating where voting machines, registers, and other digital tools need upgrading and new security measures.

But disruption is not limited to hacking.

Manipulation and undue influence also happens through party financing as well as disinformation.

According to a recent report by the French foreign ministry, Russia is responsible for 80 percent of disinformation activities in Europe, but it is certainly not the only foreign actor on the scene.

Manipulation and the erosion of trust take place via social media platforms like YouTube and Facebook.

The European Commission will monitor the commitments already entered into by platforms under an EU code of practice.

But it is unlikely that the voluntary initiatives of the major social media companies will be enough to counter the abuse of their platforms.

Without independent verification we cannot fully assess their efforts, especially when the opaque algorithms that promote disinformation are an inherent aspect of their business models.

Social media companies should provide access to real-time as well as archived information about targeted political advertising, including issue-based ads.

This kind of transparency will better inform us of the challenges we face, and allow for more targeted and effective responses.

Bots also need to transparently be identified for what they are.

What is not allowed offline should not be allowed online either.

At the heart of elections are not only national election authorities and social media companies, but also candidates and political parties.

Of course, running in elections is a competitive sport, but there should be a level playing field.

This is why the Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity, a group which I serve on, will be proposing a pledge to all parties and candidates to help them commit to abstaining from amplifying disinformation.

We should also help educate citizens about the various risks that exist.

With only a few months before the European elections, we cannot be ambitious enough to protect the democratic process.

If all Europeans now worried about next year's election could be reassured, and go to the polls in high numbers, the EU's democratic legitimacy would increase substantially.

At the moment, polls show that 61 percent of Europeans are concerned about elections being interfered with through cyberattacks and 59 percent are concerned about foreign actors covertly influencing votes.

Even in Italy - one of the countries considered to be lagging behind others in treating threats seriously - 66 percent are concerned about foreign actors influencing elections covertly and 79 percent are concerned about disinformation on the Internet around elections.

These deeply concerning figures deserve a strong answer.

Democratic rights cannot be taken for granted, and between the EU institutions, member states, political parties, and social media companies' preparations, we have no time to lose.

Marietje Schaake is an MEP from the Dutch D66 Party (ALDE) and a member of the Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity, a cross-party group of political, media and tech leaders dedicated to preventing the next wave of election interference. For more information, please go to protectelections.com

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

EUvsDisinfo site must be strengthened, not abolished

The EU's bid to fight 'fake news', the EUvsDisinfo website, is in its infancy and has made mistakes. But transparency and a willingness to put those errors right means it is doing vital work in the battle against Russian propaganda.

Lagarde's ECB must modernise

Christine Lagarde will succeed European Central Bank president Mario Draghi at a time of deepening polarisation among eurozone member states. It will take all of her skills as a leader and communicator to safeguard the institution's independence.

News in Brief

  1. Trump turned down: Greenland not for sale
  2. UK Libdems would back Clarke or Harman as new PM
  3. Six countries agree to take 'Open Arms' ship migrants
  4. Gibraltar judge: Iranian ship should be released
  5. Increasing fears of a global recession
  6. Far-right hate crimes on the rise in Germany
  7. EU steel tariffs have 'worked well' so far
  8. Italian court: Migrant rescue ship can enter Italian waters

Facebook has to answer some tough questions about Libra

German MEP and member of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, Markus Ferber, warns of four separate threats from Facebook's Libra. A good moment to kick off the debate would be this week's G20 summit.

Six takeaways on digital disinformation at EU elections

For example, Germany's primetime TV news reported that 47 percent of political social media discussions were related to the extreme-right AfD party, when in fact this was the case only for Twitter - used by only four percent of Germans.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  5. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  7. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  8. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  9. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  10. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North

Latest News

  1. Selmayr did not keep formal records of lobby meetings
  2. EU asked to solve migrant rescue deadlock
  3. Internal EU paper: Second Brexit vote was no longer 'distant dream'
  4. EU has 'zero incentive' to break open 'trilogue' deals
  5. Denmark plans import ban on EU-approved pesticide
  6. US offers Johnson helping hand on Brexit
  7. Italy: New government without Salvini in the making
  8. Brexit row delays financial products transparency review

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us