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Monday, October 2, 2023

EU points finger at Russia, China amid flood of virus disinformation

The European Union wants social media platforms to do more to counter harmful health hoaxes and conspiracy theories linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, much of it from Russia or China.

Ursula von der Leyen
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission

EU experts have observed a “massive wave” of poor health care advice, false claims and online scams, but also attempts by foreign actors to intervene in domestic EU debates.

Some groups, for example, have pushed dangerous assertions that drinking bleach could cure the new coronavirus.

“Belgium’s Poison Control Centre has recorded an increase of 15 per cent in the number of bleach-related incidents,’’ the report read.

Brussels has pushed social media platforms to promote official information sources and remove dangerous misleading content.

However, it wants companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube-owner Google to do more, such as compiling monthly reports.

“We know only as much as platforms tell us. This is not good enough, they have to open up and offer more evidence,’’ Commission Vice President Vera Jourova said in Brussels.

The EU has been actively raising attention about disinformation since 2015, with a programme that mainly focuses on pro-Kremlin sources.

However, in the wake of COVID-19, the EU has started expressing concern about China’s official narratives surrounding the pandemic.

The new report names “foreign actors’’, namely Beijing and Moscow, that took part in campaigns aimed at undermining the democratic debate in the EU.

It added that sometimes focused on polarising the debates and, at other times, trying to polish up their own image.

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