Disinformation, as the latest iteration of propaganda suitable for a digitally interconnected world, shows no signs of abating. Instead, it mutates and expands, threatening states’ political security, civil rights, and even public health. The Delegation of the European Union to the United States commissioned this Chatham House paper with the aim of contributing to global efforts to tackle disinformation. The paper provides a holistic overview of the current state of play and outlines how EU and US cooperation can mitigate disinformation in the future.
After defining disinformation as a term, the paper maps legislative, institutional and technological actions to counter disinformation taken by governments, civil society and digital intermediaries (social media, search engines and app platforms) both in the US and the EU. The paper looks at previous and ongoing global interventions to tackle the problem and investigates how international efforts can inform and empower future EU–US cooperation. Echoing other researchers in the field it finds human rights rather than security to be the most appropriate basis for ongoing research and deliberations on disinformation. The paper recommends that the EU should harness its normative power to provide direction and share best practices from different member states that have been tackling disinformation.
The author interviewed legal scholars, as well as officials in US agencies, EU institutions, NATO and advocacy organizations engaged in the research of disinformation or tasked with addressing hybrid threats more broadly. The paper also draws on panel discussions at the Conference on Data Protection and Democracy (CPDP) in Brussels and presentations by researchers working in the field of data governance, privacy and political campaign reform. Desk research included articles, official EU and US reports, and outputs from other research organizations. A first draft of this paper was presented at the EU–US Young Leaders Seminar 2019 in Brussels and debated among participants from the Fulbright US Student and EU-funded exchange programmes, as well as EU and US officials, all of which informed the final draft. The selected disinformation case studies were chosen due to the scale of their global impact and their potential implications for future political campaigning, foreign interference and internet governance more broadly. Given the speed of developments in the field of tech policy and disinformation, it is important to note this paper reflects the state of play in September 2019.