Channel 4’s Martin Williams has written a bombshell report on the EU’s fight against ‘fake news’. Based on a meeting between EU representatives and European journalists from last September, Williams state that the actual aim of the war against fake news, by the EU leaders’ own admission, is to make sure “anti-democrats don’t win at the ballot boxes”.
Many EU officials used the opportunity to give their own views on fake news. Some of them clearly believed that the battle against misinformation was actually a battle against Eurosceptics. They saw their mission in this fight as defending the EU and its institutions. Ramón Luis Valcárcel Siso, the European Parliament’s vice president, laid this out in stark terms, admitting the campaign against fake news should aim to stop certain politicians from winning seats in the EU’s next election.
Siso called on journalists and their ‘indispensible efforts’ to make sure ‘anti-democrats’ don’t win any elections. His focus was explicitly on ‘falsehoods’ that aim “to destroy the European Union.” While, according to Williams, Siso seems to have realized that what he was advocating amounted to “institutional propaganda”, he declared that this was a legitimate tool “to defend the unity of European citizens” against the ‘populists and nationalists’.
Rather shockingly, Williams notes:
Mr Valcárcel Siso was clear that the fight against fake news was not just about protecting democracy – it was about protecting the institutions of the EU as well. And he did not seem to see a distinction between these two things.
But it’s not limited to one fact checking conference or one official. Martin Williams has found more open admissions of the EU establishment’s quest to regain its monopoly on the flow of information:
The EU’s strategy against fake news is set out more formally in a number of reports, reinforcing the sentiments made at the fact-checking conference. Their fears are not just that disinformation damages democracy and political discourse. They also warn about it eroding “trust in institutions”.
He refers to an “Opinion of the Committee on Petitions, for the Committee on Constitutional Affairs, on implementation of the Treaty provisions related to EU citizenship” which contains a call for “the combating of fake news and any populist rhetoric”. It is not clarified in the document what constitutes “populism”, let alone why it is so bad that it must be fought, or why populism is apparently so far outside of the democratic realm of valid opinions that the political class should legitimately be using tax payers’ money to do so.
In a “contribution from the European Commission to the Leaders’ meeting in Salzburg on 19-20 September 2018″ with the catchy title Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European economic and social committee and the committee of the regions Securing free and fair European elections the European Commission calls on EU member states to have websites and social media platforms manipulate content to improve the “findability of trustworthy content”. Trustworthy content, meaning EU-approved news, placing the power over information in the hands of all-but appointed journalists whom the EU can trust not to be too critical of their work. Truly, the next step would be for the state itself to employ ‘journalists’.
The same sentiment is echoed in the EU Code of Practice on Disinformation, also referenced by Martin Williams, in which member states are urged to “invest in technological means to prioritize relevant, authentic, and authoritative information where appropriate in search, feeds, or other automatically ranked distribution channels”
Last December, the Dutch government floated the idea of introducing social media ‘permits’, only allowing approved accounts to share news online. My conclusion then was as it is now:
In theory, this would suppress fake news and make everybody happy. In actuality, this means that Facebook and Twitter will not only be allowed to suppress the anti-establishment right wing, they will be urged or even required to do so.
While the EU talks mostly in broad, vague terms, their obvious plans are readily translated into more concrete terms by people like British Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, who called for “concerted Government action by individual states and supranational action” and to “put reputable and regulated news organisations’ sites like the BBC top of search engines”. According to Williams, the EU published this online as a statement from EU Parliament, while Bradshaw maintains he spoke in a personal capacity.
Martin Williams addresses the EU’s disastrous “EUvsDisinfo” task force (see my article from last May), which was supposed to track and warn against fake news, but listed numerous accurate news reports as ‘disinformation’, many of them from non-establishment outlets and almost none from those deemed ‘reputable’ by the EU itself.
It is hard to come by a clearer illustration of the melting together of our political and journalistic elites into one.
Williams cites a source close to the task force as saying that “some of the ‘disinfo’ listed on the website may ‘have a large element of truth in them'”, leading him to conclude:
In other words, not only could the “disinfo” turn out to be largely correct, there is also no guarantee that it was written deliberately to follow Kremlin messaging. The question is, then: why call it “disinformation”?
According to Williams, at the EU’s fact-checking conference, EP spokesperson Marjorie van den Broeke argued that fake news appeals to people’s ‘reptilian brains’ and suggested the EU copy the same style, which Williams links to the Synopsis report of the public consultation on fake news and online disinformation (26 April 2018): “Fact-checking is based on facts, while beliefs and emotions would have a stronger influence in the audience. Some fact-checking initiatives could be unsuccessful in dismantling false news due to their very technical nature.”
This sounds a lot like when your parents try to copy street lingo to appeal to your frame of reference, and hopelessly fail to connect, but it is a rather ominous statement. Yes, they can say they will only copy the style of what they consider fake news, rather than actually putting out fake news themselves, but as the EUvsDisinfo debacle shows, real and fake are not as far apart as it seems and there are no concrete standards by which to measure them. By its own admission, the EU will label articles fake when they contain the wrong message or were produced in the wrong country (with Russia as the main target). Nowhere does the EU specify what consitutes fake news, or populism, or a reputable outlet. We don’t know what makes the good guys good or the bad guys bad, we don’t know how to tell them apart and we don’t know why the bad guys are bad and what they will do to us. In that context, the EU wants us to trust them to copy the bad guys, while still staying truthful and trustworthy – the good guys, indistinguishable from the bad guys in every way (theoretically), except they will be the ones saying “Yo yo, the EU is totally dope”.
Free speech is dead
Free speech is dead. It has been for a while, and only a startlingly small number of people seems upset about it. A low point in France is that the courts are trying to have Marine Le Pen declared insane for criticizing ISIS (this sounds like an exaggeration, but it is truly what it amounts to).
A low point in The Netherlands came recently, as the hosts of a talk show about soccer, the national sport, said (in response to earlier controversies about jokes about homosexuality, transgenderism, etc) that people should not make a big deal out of coming out as gay. After that, the Dutch minister of Education, Ingrid van Engelshoven (D66 – worth a click for context about the most dangerous party in the Dutch political arena today) wanted to speak with host Johan Derksen about his comments, which she said were ‘hurtful’ to many people. Van Engelshoven’s move was slammed by MP Martin Bosma (of Geert Wilders’ Party For Freedom (PVV)) as unconstitutional, as the minister sought to assert influence over the content of a TV show (Article 7 of the Dutch constitution prohibits censorship) – he continued by exposing minister Van Engelshoven’s partisanship by referencing several far worse insults made on TV towards Geert Wilders which did not prompt public statements from government officials, leaving Bosma to wonder whether those insults were ‘hurtful’ as well.
But there is much, much more to be told of the tragic demise of freedom.
Martin Williams states that the war against fake news “seems explicitly designed to protect the EU and its institutions, and stop Eurosceptic politicians making progress in elections. When asked about its interpretation of fake news, the EU did not deny that it took a partisan approach.”
I can only hope all these referenced documents will one day fill the history books of a liberated European people, to serve as a warning against the power-mad authoritarianism of our current political leaders.