Belgrader Konsultationen

Digitalisierung, Sicherheit im Netz, aber auch der Umgang mit Desinformationskampagnen waren Inhalt der so genannten Belgrader Konsultationen, bei denen ich gemeinsam mit Kolleginnen aus dem EU-Parlament in Serbiens Hauptstadt mit Abgeordneten der russischen Duma zu Gesprächen zusammengetroffen bin.

Dabei habe ich eine Rede gehalten, die in eine der Veranstaltung eingeführte. Die Rede können Sie an dieser Stelle nachlesen:  


Belgrade 17. 11. 2018

Let me say at the outset: I’m very glad to be here, but I’m even more appreciative that you are here. Because – unless we voice our greviences, and there are many and they are serious, unless we voice them in a direct confrontation, we will never be able to gauge what exactly separates us. We need to retain a dialogue, since only by talking to each other we will be able to overcome the differences that separate us. And now to the issue itself.

 The digital revolution is here. There is no doubt that – by and large – it is bringing with it many benefits, many opportunities and makes all our lives easier. However, with it come countless challenges and threats as well. Our duty is to tackle these challenges and to ensure the safety, privacy and well-being of our fellow citizens. We need to approach these challenges – such as fake news, hacking and interference by third parties – as a united European Union and in cooperation with our international partners.

We, in the European Parliament, have the responsibility to protect our citizens, our political discourse and our liberal democracy. That’s what we have been elected for. And that is what we want to deliver!

When contentious issues like the Brexit are, in their public exposure, being undermined by social media campaigns that have no relation to the truth, we are getting concerned. And when there are indications that  the origins of which are Russian trolls  – then we we start to shake and shudder.

More and more States or state-like actors are resorting to the Internet to continue their fight against their real or perceived enemy on a different level. The so called Islamic State has been using the very advantage of social Media – namely that it has the ability to encrypt messages that become totally secret to an outsider – they use that ability to communicate among each other, or send messages that bear clear hints how to plan an attack in total secrecy.  And we also know that modern technology that relies on – let’s say – GPS, like drones, that they can be outfitted not for leisurely purposes but for criminal or terroristic behaviour. And we are almost defenseless against these mightmarish developments.

But, let me go back to the less neferious but still worrysome behaviour that concerns us all.

 There is, of course, the United States – where – it seems – it all began and has become a particular disconcerting issue. I do not take everything at face value what I read in US papers, but some of the information is indeed troubling: like when Jonathan Morgan and Ryan Fox – two independent  cyber security experts – a few days ago stated that in the most recent election campaign more than 400 websites were identified as likely being Russian propaganda outlets and more than 100 of these being confirmed as under the direction of the Russian government. The top three websites linked to theses social media posts  are the site of RT (former Russia Today) with 5700 links; the Duran, a right-wing news and opinion site with 300 links and Sputnik with 1100 links.

Just to give you some hint what they were  – thematically – involved in: During the hearing of Supreme court justice Bret Kavanough they were drawing attention to sexual and domestic abuse allegations against various Democratic candidates and potential presidential candidates for 2020. They have been amplifying anti-immigrant sentiments (an issue that we increasingly observe also here in Europe) and that the mail bomb campaign was merely a Democratic plot. And I could go on and on….

Facebook is a particular case in point:

It has become so powerful, in that it now connects some 2.2 billion people – I repeat: 2.2 billion people. It is being used to shape, or reshape  political campaigns, the advertising business and just ordinary daily life all over the globe. In more precise terms, Facebook can now also be used to disrupt the election process, broadcast propaganda of any sort  and spread  hate and fear wherever it deems necessary or possible.

And now to the findings in the US with regard to Facebook :

The number of advertisement generated by the Kremlin during the 2016 election campaign had reached one hundred and twenty six million American Facebook users – and, a hearing in the US-Senate revealed – they were targeting specific demographic and geographic areas, like African-Americans who were dissuaded to vote…

The big question, of course is, if this is all true – why would the Kremlin be doing this? For the US the answer to this question seems  pretty obvious: Donald Trump – after all we have seen and heard from him so far – is easier to manipulate or to persuade than, I would say, any other candidate ever to run for the White House. (You remember the „Thumbs UP he gave to Mr. Putin when they met in Paris a few days ago…) But here in Europe?

 Since we never received an official acknowledgment by the Kremlin, no, to the contrary, we always got  a denial,  we can only speculate. Is Vladimir Putin – and without his knowledge these kind of intervention could not happen, I presume – is Mr. Putin really interested in driving a wedge between various European countries, or better, between various European parties – those who reject a common, united Europe and those who favor it. Does he really believe, a Europe -disintegrating – would be a better partner for Russia? It baffles me, I don’t have an answer…

 But let me return to what we have been doing here in Europe to counter false online information

 While the Resolution on EU strategic communication to counteract propaganda by third parties focuses on the external aspects of cyber security, the resolution on online platforms and the digital single market deals with internal challenges and threats to our citizens and our democracy.

As the shadow rapporteur of my group for the European Parliament’s report on anti-EU propaganda, I have dealt extensively with Fake News and targeted misinformation.  As we have been discussions now here, aside from the traditional media it is more and more the cyber space where the most flagrant violations take place. And since it has become obvious that most of the users of the social media remain in their own bubble, they usually hear and disseminate news that conform their political background.

With great concern we  have come to realize that state actors are increasingly trying to meet their geopolitical goals in various ways: not only through traditional tools like military force, but also through more discreet cyber tools, including interfering in internal democratic processes. The use of cyberspace as a domain of warfare, either solely or as part of a hybrid approach, is now widely acknowledged. Disinformation campaigns, fake news and cyber operations targeted at critical infrastructure are increasingly common and demand a response. For this reason,  in/ its / Reflection Paper on the Future of European Defence, the Commission stressed the importance of cyber defence cooperation.

 The EU, therefore, needs more robust and effective structures to ensure strong cyber resilience, promote cybersecurity and to respond to cyber-attacks aimed at the Member States and at the EU’s own institutions, agencies and bodies. It also needs strong cybersecurity for its Single Market, major advances in the EU’s technological capability and a broader understanding of everybody’s role in countering cyber threats. (In response, the Joint Communication suggests new initiatives to further improve EU cyber resilience and response in three key areas:

 o  Building EU resilience to cyber-attacks and stepping up the EU’s cybersecurity capacity

o  Creating an effective criminal law response

o  Strengthening global stability through international cooperation)


But no matter the origin – we must fiercely fight  any such misinformation and fake news. In particular since over half of the European population now rely on social media as a news source, with a third of young Europeans using it as their main news source. The fight against online misinformation is therefore one of the key priorities of the European Union in the next years.

Companies, such as Facebook, finally have to take responsibility for the content on their platforms. The upcoming elections for the European Parliament need to be protected from foreign interference and manipulation. The spread of hatred, false information and propaganda needs to be tackled and eliminated

There are many challenges ahead of us – We need to be vigilant and fight any cyber threat, which puts our values, our political culture, our citizens and our democracy at risk.  Wherever  it comes from, whatever the perpetrators are. Spassiva bolschoi



Copyright © 2019 Eugen Freund.