Early Wednesday morning, the European Union adopted a resolution to counteract perceived Russian propaganda. EU parliament voted on a non-legislative resolution which calls for it to “respond to information warfare by Russia,” a move that has named specific media companies as “tools” for spreading this propaganda.
Credible media companies like RT and Sputnik news agency are among the companies named as the most threatening. And it’s not only Russia that they hope to tackle, as IS (Islamist State, formally ISIS/ISIL) has also been called out alongside them. Essentially, Russia and IS are now perceived on the same level as international threats.
According to a press release from European Parliament:
Propaganda pressure on the EU from Russia and Islamist terrorist groups is growing, MEPs warn in a resolution voted on Wednesday. It seeks to distort the truth, incite fear, provoke doubt and divide the EU. To counteract anti-EU campaigns, MEPs suggest reinforcing the EU’s tiny “strategic communication” task force and investing more in awareness raising, education, online and local media, investigative journalism and information literacy.
What this essentially means is that the EU is formally unleashing its own counter-propaganda intititive.
Adding to these fears, a report written by Anna Fotyga, a Polish member of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, suggests that Moscow provides financial support to opposition parties and organizations of member states, trying to weaken or cast doubt against the EU.
The report goes on to say that “hostile propaganda against the EU and its member states seeks to distort the truth, provoke doubt, divide the EU and its North American partners, paralyse the decision-making process, discredit the EU institutions and incite fear and uncertainty among EU citizens.”
The counteractive resolution was favoured 304 to 179, with 208 abstentions. Shortly after, Russian President Vladimir Putin commented on the EU’s decision, stating that while “everyone tries to lecture” Russia on democracy, European lawmakers themselves resort to a policy of restrictions, “which is not the best way” to deal with any issues.
“The best approach is an open discussion, in which bright and solid arguments to support one’s point of view should be presented,” the President said. He later went on to praise outlets like RT for their excellence in journalism. Putin also commented on the report, saying it demonstrates “political degradation” in regard to the “idea of democracy” in the West.
What Is This About?
What is really going on here? This report comes out shortly after stories emerged of ‘fake news’ running rampant on the Interent and ‘clogging’ social media platforms. It all seems to be well timed. The much-debated topic has left mainstream media outlets backpedalling, looking for someone to point the finger at for Trump’s election win, and it seems as though they’ve landed on independent media as their culprit.
This EU report also mentions some “social media and internet trolls” from Russia who are thought to “challenge democratic values.” Do we even all agree on what ‘democratic values’ are anymore? Is this the establishment’s way of keeping their finger on the pulse of ‘social news’ and the narratives put forth? German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s statement earlier this week would certainly seem to support this theory:
“Something has changed — as globalization has marched on, [political] debate is taking place in a completely new media environment. Opinions aren’t formed the way they were 25 years ago,” she said. She warned that public opinion was being “manipulated” on the internet.
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As reported by France 24, she goes on to say,”Today we have fake sites, bots, trolls — things that regenerate themselves, reinforcing opinions with certain algorithms, and we have to learn to deal with them.” I think more education on digital media literacy could be a good start.
Merkel said the challenge for democrats was to “reach and inspire people — we must confront this phenomenon and if necessary, regulate it.” I can’t help but wonder if she is alluding to censorship.
She said she supported initiatives by her right-left coalition government to crack down on “hate speech” on social media in the face of what she described as “concerns about the stability of our familiar order.” It sounds like, in other words, the establishment wants to retain its power and order and feels threatened by the changing political climate of the collective.
I reached out to RT for an official statement but have yet to hear back. I suspect this is a story we all, especially those in independent media, will be closely following, and I implore you to as well. Any form of censorship threatens our right to free speech and our ability to choose what news we want to read, listen to, and watch.
This all begs questions that need sound answers, like: Do we really need the government to tell us what is news? How comfortable are we as citizens with the close relationship these giant social media platforms could potentially have in the near future? What body of authority would govern what is deemed as ‘fake news?’
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