The lack of a coordinated EU strategy against foreign malign influence and of an appropriate toolkit to counter disinformation dissemination by third actors, is becoming increasingly alarming in the context of the military conflict in Ukraine. Russia is successfully exploiting vulnerable to disinformation groups among Europeans via the spread of conspiracy theories, cyberattacks and the manipulation of social media platforms. Political elites must implement measures to protect democratic values and institutions and build their resilience.
These are some of the conclusions of the discussion Foreign influence threats to European democracy and the role of disinformation, organized by the Bureau of the European Parliament in Bulgaria on March 14, 2022. Participants included Andrey Kovachev, Member of the EU Parliament (EPP) and the INGE Special Committee, Ralitsa Kovacheva, Lecturer at the Faculty of Journalism and Communications of Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski” and Editor-in-chief of Factcheck.bg, and Ruslan Stefanov, Program director of CSD. The discussion was moderated by Dobrina Cheshmedzhieva from BNT.
Key topics during the discussion were the impact of disinformation on democratic practices, how algorithms transform social networks into powerful tools for the manipulation and polarization of a given society, as well as the complexity of third actor strategies for exerting influence through digital platforms.
The participants outlined some recommendations moving forward such as systematic verification of facts by the media and a focus on the development of critical thinking skills in education. The new European strategy in regards to disinformation needs to take into account the complexity of building resilience without encroaching on free speech.