Sunday

15th Dec 2019

Nato Stratcom finds EU election manipulation 'loopholes'

  • Facebook was used to dupe Latvian soldiers into disclosing unit locations (Photo: portal gda)

Nato experts on online manipulation have identified loopholes that may have been exploited to influence voters in the lead up to the May European elections.

Janis Sarts, who heads the Riga-based Nato Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence, said it remains unclear if the loopholes had actually been utilised, because social media platforms will not give them access to data.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

"The only data we can access is Twitter or Russian Vkontakte but it was not very extensively used," he told reporters on Tuesday (3 September).

Also known as Nato Stratcom, the centre is specifically tasked to research the way influence works on states, societies, and on individuals.

"We don't have the data [but] I know there were loopholes," he added, suggesting social media giants like Facebook cannot be trusted to reveal whether such loopholes had been exploited or not.

Sarts says the centre's researchers are currently looking into the matter but did not elaborate on what the loopholes looked like, only noting that outlets like Facebook, WhatsApp, and YouTube are often used as echo chambers to influence people.

Those comments appear to clash, in part, with the European Commission claims in June of "active support" from Facebook and Google to fight disinformation.

The commission had created a Rapid Alert System in early 2019 to raise the alarm on disinformation campaigns - but not a single alert had been issued as of July, and was ignored by most member states.

The Brussels-executive had also drafted a voluntary code of practice on disinformation under the threat of imposing regulation unless the platforms got serious in tackling the phenomenon.

Conflict of interest

But Rolf Fredheim, a principal scientist at Nato Stratcom, says Facebook has no real incentive to reveal the extent of fake news on their platform.

"Their [Facebook] share price is determined in large part by the number of active users on their platform, so there is conflict of interest, which means self-regulation is unlikely to be very effective," he said.

The social media giant had unveiled an Ad Tool in March to fight disinformation but it doesn't appear to work either. Researchers at Mozilla, the maker of the Firefox web browser, said the Ad Tool is rife with problems.

Another Nato Stratcom researcher, Sebastian Bay, said they are instead having to rely on metadata to trace the origin of things like bots.

"The only people who can do attribution is the platforms themselves," he said.

The centre has in the past demonstrated the ease of social engineering.

Last year, a small team managed to dupe Latvian soldiers during a military exercise to not only disclose unit locations but also abandon their posts by setting up fake Tinder accounts and creating a bogus Facebook group.

"The only cost of this experiment was the money we spent on Facebook ads and that was about €50," said Nora Biteniece, a Nato StratCom software engineer.

It took Facebook two weeks to remove the bogus page after being alerted by the Latvian ministry of defence.

Opinion

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.

Russian activist warns on 'fake news' as EU backs action

In 2015, internet activist Lyudmila Savchuk went under cover to expose a troll factory in St Petersburg. As the EU summit endorses anti-disinformation action, she told EUobserver the Russian government is bankrolling many more.

No large-scale disinformation detected in EU this year

The EU set up a 'Rapid Alert System' in March to allow national authorities in member states to inform the rest of the bloc of any large-scale disinformation campaigns. No alert has so far been triggered.

Leaders face crucial EU summit for climate action

EU leaders are meeting on Thursday and Friday in three different formats: a regular summit to discuss the EU's long-term budget and the 2050 climate-neutrality goal, a European Council (Article 50) meeting, and a European summit.

News in Brief

  1. EU Scream podcast wins media award
  2. Sturgeon will set out Scottish independence plan next week
  3. Slovenia, Croatia ex-leaders highlight jailed Catalans
  4. Italian court tells Facebook to reopen fascist party's account
  5. EU extends sanctions on Russia until mid-2020
  6. UK exit poll gives Johnson majority of 86
  7. Orban: 'financial guarantees' to reach climate neutrality
  8. Merkel hopes EU leaders agree 2050 climate-neutrality

Wilmès becomes first female PM of Belgium

On Sunday, Sophie Wilmès was appointed as the new prime minister of Belgium - becoming the first female head of government in the country's history. She replaces Charles Michel who becomes president of the European Council.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. EU values face scrutiny This WEEK
  2. EU sighs relief after 'decisive' Johnson victory in UK
  3. Huge win for Conservatives in UK election
  4. Behind bars: a visit to an imprisoned Catalan politician
  5. Leaders agree 2050 climate neutrality - without Poland
  6. EU leaders cagey on 'Future of Europe' conference
  7. Pressure mounts to grill Malta's Muscat at EU summit
  8. Revealed: little evidence to justify internal border checks

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us