Fear of disinformation

Virtual incentives, real emotions

30 March 2019


By nature, we seek facts and trustworthy information. However, in the competition for power, lies are often used to discredit the opponents and improve one’s competitive advantage. The digital age has brought this clash to a new level. In this post-truth setting, facts have become enemies, and democracy may fall victim.

It would be of little surprise to anyone that disinformation campaigns are both aggressively active in Europe and effective in their pursuits. However, the sheer number of false accounts and bots disseminating “fake news” is staggering and, according to recent data, on the rise.

Nevertheless, there are new tools for fighting disinformation which will be made available not only for the political sphere but also for the general public and business sector.


  • The criminal use of bots has an economic toll second only to the international drug trade.
  • Almost ¾ of Europeans fear they could be affected by disinformation.
  • Innovative online tools, already being trialled, will be able to analyse and block in real-time disinformation campaigns and posts.

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Big numbers

In 2018, 66% of links shared on Twitter came from automated accounts. Of those, 44% of the links were from conservative political websites/news while 41% were focused on a liberal agenda.

Last year, about one million Twitter accounts were checked every month due to questionable content, and roughly, 75% of them were deleted.

Today, about 15% of Twitter accounts are bots; compared to previous years, the number of fake accounts is on the rise (e.g., in 2013 they accounted for only 5%).

The first report published by Facebook reveals that in the first quarter of last year, 583 million fake accounts were deleted, which accounted for 837 million spam posts.

Nevertheless, Facebook estimates that roughly 4% of its accounts are still fake. Moreover, the criminal use of bots in cyberspace is such a serious problem that the World Federation of Advertisers estimates that the damages will soon reach nearly 50 billion USD and become second only to the drugs trade as a source of income for organised crime globally. This shows the scale of the phenomenon that already affects all internet users, including voters.

Source: Statista

The number of social media users worldwide is constantly growing. Facebook has the most users, YouTube comes second while Twitter comes in at eleventh.

Under cyberattack

The Internet and the tools it provides have revolutionised the way electoral campaigns are run, which is why political parties are earmarking ever larger funds for online electoral campaigns.

With the introduction of new regulations on social media platforms and their potential liability as an accessory to intentional disinformation, the largest platforms are introducing new self-regulatory mechanisms.

At the same time, the so-called Robotrolling is flourishing, mainly in the Baltic states and in Poland, while in social media fake accounts represent 54% of all Russian-language news about NATO. This poses a great threat because anonymous accounts using new technologies are especially predominant on Twitter despite the efforts taken to delete fake accounts.

Content amplification in electoral campaigns is a dangerous weapon against democratic decision-making mechanisms, but there are three types of effective tools to counter their impact.

The first one is information and education while the second is high journalistic standards supported by regulations fostering freedom and financial outlays.

The third, the most important component, are the innovative digital tools to detect and counteract real-time automated campaigns, the preparation and implementation of which will undergo the first major test during 2019 electoral campaigns.

We are using the plural form because if we were to count elections in each EU member state separately and add to them to all the national elections taking place in Europe, then we can talk of more than fifty electoral campaigns on the continent, in which disinformation and cyber defence tools alike will be used.

Attempts to influence the way political decisions are taken outside of one’s political sphere is not a new phenomenon, and the recent years have shown that even the largest Western democracies are not impervious to this type of attack.

Fears if disinformation

As revealed by the survey conducted in September 2018, the amount of fake news disseminated by internet users is the main problem for European citizens. Among others, the European Commission asked in the survey:

How concerned are you with disinformation and misinformation on the internet?
(% of respondents)

How concerned are you that the personal data people leave on the internet is used to target the political messages they see, undermining free and fair competition between all political parties?
(% of respondents)

How concerned are you with restrictions and censorship of political debates on online social media?
(% of respondents)

Overall, 73% respondents declared to have a fear of disinformation, and 30% are very concerned about disinformation

This issue should be clearly high on top of priorities for the future European Parliament and the Commission.


Visegrad Insight 2 (14) 2019
European Parliamentary #Futures

Download the report 

Published by Res Publica Foundation
Partner: Konrad Adenauer Foundation
Supported by: ABTSHIELD

Wojciech Przybylski, Editor-in-Chief
Marcin Zaborowski, Senior Associate

Magda Jakubowska, Director of Operations
Galan Dall, Managing Editor
Anhelina Pryimak, Editorial Assistant
Anna Kulikowska-Kasper, Contributor
Paweł Kuczyński, Illustrations
Rzeczyobrazkowe, Graphic Design


European Parliamentary #Futures

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