Disinformation on the agenda of the European Union, a doctoral thesis by a director general and former MEP

In the spring of 2014, an article from The New York Times published in the newspaper El País caught my attention: “Russian television channels – controlled by the highest echelons of the Kremlin – broadcast exaggerations, conspiracy theories and lies about the crisis in Ukraine day after day.”. He described blatant lies and aggressive propaganda aimed at disorienting the opposition and buying time – a window of just a few hours – to occupy Crimea. “The disinformation war” (Herszenhorn, 2014) confirmed a founding fact: Russia It went beyond traditional propaganda and undertook its first organized disinformation action with the tools of the 21st century and with its formal consideration of a hybrid war strategy.

Thus begins the prologue of the doctoral thesis of Beatrice BecerraThe disruptive role of disinformation in the agenda of the European Union. An analysis of actors, interests and decisions”. The directors of the thesis were the doctor professor carmen navarro and Professor Emeritus Professor Joaquim Molins. The text was presented on May 9 of this year at the Faculty of Law of the Autonomous University of Madrid. Department of Political Science and International Relations.

EU fake news

We reproduce some of its passages, by way of synthesis:

This research aims to explain the patterns of incorporation of the disinformation on the European political agenda between 2016 and 2019, through an analytical and structured description of the emergence and evolution of the phenomenon and its actors, interests and decisions, as well as identifying the keys to an effective strategy and action plan in the European Union to successfully confront this phenomenon.

In addition to its consensual description as a problem, its entry on the agenda and the identification of the relevant actors and interests in this process, the essential objective of this study is also to reflect on all past and future options in the fight against disinformation. The disruptive nature of the phenomenon, its capacity to profoundly alter the political agenda, and the multiplicity of actors, interests and decisions involved (both in said agenda-setting capacity and in the need to take national and supranational political measures), cement the interest of investigating all these elements from the perspective of public policies.

With an empirical orientation, based on our own data and with the deductive method as a research methodology, this thesis seeks to answer the questions about how and why the problem of disinformation has entered public agendas and, in particular, that of the public sector. the European Union, what are the actors and interests that accompany this entry and what public interventions could be launched to address the problem. The thesis raises the phenomenon of disinformation as a relevant and highly analyzed issue from communication studies, but to a lesser extent from public policy Therefore, it proposes an analysis of the process of agenda-setting in the European Union using the Theoretical Framework of Multiple Streams and Kingdon’s Window of Opportunity. Additionally, the study raises an applied dimension, proposing recommendations to address the problem from public policies.

The work uses a qualitative methodology that contrasts the hypotheses through the analysis of documents and the data obtained. based on 20 in-depth interviews with highly qualified interlocutors (European Commission and European Parliament, High Level Group of Experts, think tanks Europeans, academic references and fact checkingnational and European media and Spanish institutions such as the National Security Center and experts in security and hybrid threats from the Spanish government).

This study aims, therefore, to analyze why disinformation is a relevant problem on which governments have been forced to act, with what concerns of political science it connects, to explain the reasons that justify its rigorous analysis, to order the information available to identify the main actors, interests and decisions, analyze the phenomenon in the light of existing academic, journalistic and normative documentation, and propose new guidelines for action from the perspective of public policies.

Definition of misinformation

We consider the de facto consensus definition formulated by the European Commission (2018): “verifiably false or misleading information that, cumulatively, is created, presented, and disseminated for financial gain or to intentionally mislead the public; can cause public harm, with the intention of threatening democratic politics and policy-making processes, as well as public goods such as the protection of health, the environment or the security of EU citizens. Disinformation does not include misreporting, satire and parody, nor clearly identified partisan news and commentary”, with the aim of disinformation being “to distract and divide, to plant seeds of doubt by distorting and falsifying facts, thereby misleading people and weakening their faith in established political institutions and processes.


Regulation of online platforms

The emancipatory power of the Internet depends on its egalitarian nature. To counter the digital authoritarianism, democracies must ensure that regulations allow users to express themselves freely, share information across borders, and hold the powerful to account. Otherwise, new technologies may serve to reinforce and accelerate the global decline of democracy.

It is recommended as a priority to increase the demand for transparency about the algorithms, including those used for recommendations. This source information would significantly reinforce the users’ self-perception of autonomy and control over how the systems with which they interact work, and would enable a progressive transition towards a balance: only if you know how a tool works can you use it properly and adapt it to your needs. The technology companies themselves are giving clear signs of assuming a strategic repositioning in this regard. The most significant case, again, is Facebook (now Meta), the most powerful corporation in terms of reach, users and its own networks (Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp).

It is unlikely that in the coming years there will be a legal redefinition of online platforms whereby they will be considered media companies. Although they obviously and mostly carry out functions of the media, a similar judicial process would be required (although exponentially more complex) than the one that led the Court of Justice of the European Union to decide that Uber was a transport company, and not a platform. of contact between individuals, since this contact service provided “is included in services in the field of transport” (CJEU, 2017).

Adaptation of media policies

To create pillars of trustwe recommend the continuity of support programs for the investigative journalismn, independent journalism and cooperation journalistic in the Member States initiated by the European Commission in 2019: that essential, powerful and broad “percentage of reliable information” that we alluded to earlier as essential to dilute disinformation.

Likewise, we propose to improve the current data verification services through specific financing for independent verifiers (once their access to the anonymized data traffic of the platforms is guaranteed by law).

Strengthening of citizen, institutional and governmental capacities

There is a radically important element that has yet to be incorporated into policies against disinformation: the formal, structured and active participation of citizens. Not only as passive recipients of digital or media literacy initiatives (as necessary as they may be) and as holders of fundamental rights and freedoms (which we are) for whose preservation we must be very careful with restrictive legislative solutions. Also in the assumption of commitments and tasks from civil society, as required of national governments, the media, academic institutions and main business actors.

The shared responsibility of safeguarding the right of EU citizens to real, objective and reliable information necessarily implies maintaining the joint effort of institutions and governments, as well as companies, the media, universities and civil society organisations. But protecting the independence and freedom of Europe’s democratic electoral processes requires a constant coordination and preparation of particularly responsible public powers, as well as the strengthening of citizen capacities.

To make this safeguard of rights and protection of democratic processes effective by institutions and governments, our recommendations would focus on:

  • Provide the necessary national budget resources to the main public services involved.
  • Adopt the qualification of critical infrastructures for electoral processes, parliaments, senates and political parties.
  • Strengthen the common European response to foreign influence operations.

Beatriz Becerra (Madrid, 1966)

Doctor Cum Laude in Law, Government and Public Policies from the Autonomous University of Madrid, she has a degree in Industrial Psychology from the Complutense University of Madrid, an Executive MBA from IEDE, a Master’s in Human Resources Management from CEF, a postgraduate degree in Marketing from the Chamber of Commerce of Madrid, in Strategic Management from the Polytechnic University and in Management of Non-Profit Entities from the UNED.

Beatrice Becerra

Since July 2020 it is CEO for Citizen Participation, Foreign Action, Transparency and Good Governance of the Malaga City Council. According to the municipal website, he perceives 75,130 euros gross in 2022.

In the 2014-2019 legislature he was MEP and Vice President of the Human Rights Subcommittee of the European Parliament and a member of the Development, Petitions and Women’s Rights committees. She has been a member of the Management Committee and Responsible for Communication of the UPyD political party between 2009 and 2014. Before that, he developed his professional career for almost twenty years as management in multinational companies entertainment (CBS, Paramount-Universal, Disney, Sony and Discovery Networks) in the areas of sales, marketing and communication.

A regular contributor to national and international media, she has a long history as teacher in masters and seminars on management, marketing, communication and advertising, and also on human rights, prevention of radicalization, Agenda 2030, gender equality, cybersecurity and disinformation.

He has published three novels (The Maid of Caiaphas, The Queen of Silver and The Lineage of Unhappy Children) and the political essay You are a liberal and you don’t know it.

She is a European ambassador for the Global Inspiring Girls Initiative of Miriam Gonzalez and member of the Advisory Council of the Catalan Civil Society and of the Scientific Committee of UNITAR (United Nations Institute for Training and Research) at its Spanish headquarters in Malaga.

Disinformation on the agenda of the European Union, a doctoral thesis by a director general and former MEP