EU elections: fact-checking marathon begins amid fake news fears - (2024)

In the last two weeks of the European electoral campaign, Dutch and Belgian newsrooms are joining forces for the first time in a “fact-checking marathon” to verify political statements.

The project is organised by Benedmo, a Flemish-Dutch collaboration against disinformation, and is based on similar initiatives organised in the Netherlands during previous elections.

Participating media include the AD, TV show Pointer and Nieuwscheckers, as well as VRT NWS, Knack, Factcheck.Vlaanderen, and RTBF. They will publish daily fact checks from Monday 27 May until the European parliament elections, on 6 June in the Netherlands and 9 June in Belgium.

“Journalists from eight different newsrooms joining forces to fact-check together is truly unprecedented,” said Griet De Craen, editor-in-chief of VRT NWS.

Benedmo is part of the European Digital Media Observatory (Edmo), a network of organisations monitoring disinformation activities in different languages in 28 countries and helping people finding reliable content with their #BeElectionSmart campaign.

Ahead of the EU elections, EDMO publishes a daily update that identifies current disinformation trends.

In April, member organisations published 1,716 fact-checking articles, of which 167 (10%) addressing disinformation related to Ukraine, as news was circulating that EU citizens would be sent to the battlefield. A total of 188 (11%) concerned disinformation related to the EU, the highest level recorded since May 2023. A further 185 (11%) were about climate change, 169 (10%) the Israel-Hamas conflict, and 100 (6%) coronavirus.

“Disinformation follows the news cycle,” Enzo Panizio, who manages the Edmo updates, told Dutch News. He added that the Netherlands appears less affected by disinformation than countries such as Spain, but sees the spread of the same narratives on immigration, climate change and the European Union.

Delphine Colard, European parliament deputy spokeswoman, said that disinformation activities follow three main patterns. One suggests that elections are rigged or compromised by fraud. Another aims at vote suppression, providing misleading instructions on how to vote or discouraging certain groups to participate.

A third one seeks to polarise the debate and “hijack any high-profile topic, such as coronavirus, support to Ukraine, migration or LGBTQ rights, to disengage citizens and generate distrust in parliamentary democracy”.

Examples seen in the Netherlands in the past elections include false instructions on how to vote (suggesting that voters must colour two boxes red while this makes the ballot invalid), and a fake poll to prove results are wrong.

In November, fake photos circulated in social media of Labour leader Frans Timmermans on a private jet.

Stories about pens with disappearing ink were circulated to prove ‘election fraud’ in Slovenia, Spain and Finland. Fake bomb alerts at some polling stations aimed to disrupt past vote in Bulgaria and Poland, according to a European parliament briefing.

Dutch strategy

The Dutch government presented its strategy to tackle disinformation in 2022.

“It is not a primary task of governments to label messages as disinformation, but independent media, science and fact checkers play an important role,” a spokesman for the home affairs ministry told Dutch News.

When disinformation poses a major risk, the government can actively counter messages. But, to combat such activities, “it is crucial that citizens know how to recognise disinformation themselves.”

This is also why, the spokesman said, the ministry seeks to make available “understandable and transparent communication about the election process and the voting procedure.”

The ministry can also use its “trusted flagger” status on social media in special cases, so that platforms treat such reports with priority, but they will “make their own independent assessment” and the ministry “has no authority to have certain content removed”.

Better prepared

Colard says compared “the context today is more polarised” and the information environment is made more complex by foreign attempts “to undermine parliamentary democracy.”

The EU has taken several measures to address the problem, she adds. Under the Digital Services Act, social media platforms now to have to act against disinformation or face penalties, AI-created content must be labelled and the sources of political advertising have to be more transparent.

Other measures seek to support independent media, a “key antidote to disinformation”, and education and media literacy programmes.

Foreign interference

The EU Council presidency, currently held by Belgium, also activated a crisis response scheme to improve the exchange of information on foreign interference in the European elections among EU member states.

In the past years two European parliament special committees looked into foreign interference in the EU democratic process and recommended a “whole society approach” to address disinformation.

But what if it is politicians spreading disinformation? “One thing is a genuine political position on which people can agree or disagree,” Colard says. “But this is not about opinions, it is about crafting campaigns or actions that distort information and create confusion. This is much more pernicious and has the intent to harm.”

EU elections: fact-checking marathon begins amid fake news fears - (2024)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Frankie Dare

Last Updated:

Views: 6281

Rating: 4.2 / 5 (53 voted)

Reviews: 92% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Frankie Dare

Birthday: 2000-01-27

Address: Suite 313 45115 Caridad Freeway, Port Barabaraville, MS 66713

Phone: +3769542039359

Job: Sales Manager

Hobby: Baton twirling, Stand-up comedy, Leather crafting, Rugby, tabletop games, Jigsaw puzzles, Air sports

Introduction: My name is Frankie Dare, I am a funny, beautiful, proud, fair, pleasant, cheerful, enthusiastic person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.