Wojciech Przybylski spoke with Alex Alaphilippe, Executive Director of the EU DisinfoLab, about methods of fighting disinformation and the influence money has in how the Internet is developing.

The following is an abridged version of the discussion.

Do you think that disinformation will have a big impact on the elections to the European Parliament this year?

I assume that there will be disinformation activities, but – as always – their influence will be very difficult to assess. This is especially true for the European elections because we will be witnessing 28 … separate elections, and in each case, we will have to deal with different attitudes and mentality.

It is difficult to predict, especially because disinformation is constantly evolving. However, we must be ready, careful and watchful for what will happen; importantly, we also need to be able to cooperate at the international level. When we realise that there are cases of disinformation, we will have to act together to defend ourselves against them.

What are the most effective tools used in the fight against the current disinformation?

Alex Alaphilippe

The first is thinking. When you see online content that plays on your emotions, take half a minute to watch or read them and try to understand why you see it? Why is it upsetting you? How much do you know about this topic and is it worth sharing further? Half a minute in front of the screen without doing anything on it, it’s a long time, but very helpful in the decision-making process. This is something that we all need to do to understand what role we play in disseminating information and potential misinformation.

In addition, we have many free tools. One of my favourites is InVID – it is a plugin installed in the browser, which helps to check whether the image has been submitted to photoshop or whether it was published earlier. I find it very useful; I cannot live without it today.

However, there are many tools to check the source of content that you can see, and everyone should do something to understand what is happening on the Internet.

Right after the EP elections, you are organising a large conference in Brussels, what can we expect from it?

We will talk not only about online misinformation because we always talk about Facebook and Twitter, but we will also return to many more basic questions. For example, why do we believe in disinformation? For what reason do we let ourselves be seduced by conspiracy theories? Why do we fall into emotional traps?

There are many questions about neurobiology, psychology, social sciences, and on the other hand, there are many other areas to study, such as advertising, with a particular emphasis on political advertising that can be used to promote false information.

We will also discuss the transparency of algorithms and try to find new ways to increase media literacy. There are also disinformation games that can be helpful in understanding how to create false information and how it spreads will come to that.

Do you think the main problem with disinformation is people spreading fakenews, or is the amplification of fakenews being artificially distributed on a mass scale a larger issue?

I think both. We have a problem with people creating disinformation and we need to understand what drives them, though mainly these are usually political or monetary incentives.

These factors have a big impact on how the Internet is currently developing. So, we should look at all this in a different light and answer the question of whether disinformation is used to make money at the expense of our democracies and fair elections?

It is a key problem to be solved and requires all of us to cooperate. We must, therefore, have a greater contribution from experts who understand what is happening.

Does it not disturb you?

Today, many things are disturbing. I do not divide them into those that are inferior or those that are less urgent. Everything is urgent, so we have to take care of everything at the same time.

 

This article is part of the #DemocraCE project organised by Visegrad/Insight. It was also published in Polish on Res Publica and can be found here.

Executive Director of the EU Disinfolab, a non-governmental organization based in Brussels, dealing with cases of disinformation, their roots and causes, as well as developing a community of specialist knowledge to work on these disinformation issues.


Report

The EU is at a critical juncture. For the first time since the launching of European integration, doubts about the future of the EU have been raised by mainstream politicians and large swathes of the European public. Read about four political directions that Europe may follow after the EP elections in 2019.

Visegrad Insight is published by the Res Publica Foundation. This special edition has been prepared in cooperation with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and with the kind support of ABTSHIELD.

Download the EP2019 report in PDF