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EU: Russia, China undermine democracy with coronavirus disinformation

COVID-19 (Gerd Altmann/Pixabay)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The European Union is urging online platforms to step up the fight against a wave of online disinformation triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, accusing China and Russia of mounting propaganda campaigns to undermine democracy and burnish their own images.

“Foreign actors and certain third countries, in particular Russia and China, have engaged in targeted influence operations and disinformation campaigns around COVID-19 in the EU, its neighborhood, and globally,” says a policy document released on June 10 outlining the bloc’s approach to tackling disinformation linked to the pandemic.

The two countries are “seeking to undermine democratic debate and exacerbate social polarization, and improve their own image in the COVID-19 context,” the document adds.

The pandemic “showed that disinformation does not only harm the health of our democracies, it also harms the health of our citizens,” the report says, citing “dangerous hoaxes and misleading health-care information” like claims that drinking bleach can cure the disease and that washing hands does not help prevent its spread.

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The EU praised online platforms like Google, Facebook, and Twitter for removing millions of misleading ads and those U.S. digital giants that agreed to extra scrutiny under a voluntary code of practice aimed at halting the spread of disinformation linked to the virus.

But European Commission Vice President for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova told journalists that the companies should provide far more detailed reports each month than currently on the action they are taking to prevent a fake news “infodemic.”

The companies should also enable the public to “identify new threats independently,” she added.

The coronavirus has infected more than 7.6 million people worldwide and killed over 412,000, about 180,000 of them in Europe, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.