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Disinformation on the European elections: an overview of what is circulating in Europe

By 06/06/2024No Comments7 min read

By: Julia Terradot, journalist

No, an ‘x’ extending beyond the provided circle on a ballot does not render it invalid, says AFP Germany in response to the numerous publications shared on Tiktok, Facebook, Reddit and X about the European elections. Nor are hole punched ballot papers arriving via the German post invalid, says AFP Germany in another article: they make it easier for blind people to vote. 

These clarifications form part of a database of fact-checking articles from Elections24Check, which is continuously updated by more than 40 European fact-checking organisations. The site’s contributors, or fact-checkers, sift through false claims, distortions of information, or erroneous contexts in the media or shared on social networks. 

In the run-up to the European elections, which will take place from 6 to 9 June 2024, disinformation does not seem to be primarily targeting the candidates’ programmes or the conduct of their election campaigns. Some publications could nevertheless confuse voters about the steps to take on election day – for example, no, the European health pass will not be required to vote in Italy, say Facta‘s journalists in response to this claim on X

Undermining the credibility of the EU and its institutions

However, the influence of misinformation in the European elections could be indirect. The fact-checkers at Elections24Check regularly and extensively refute false information about the impact of decisions taken by the EU and its institutions. 

One of the popular claims made by fake news publications is the idea that the EU is brutally interfering in the domestic policies of its member countries. Polígrafo confirms, for example, that the EU did not prevent Ireland from holding elections following the resignation of Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in April. Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidzé even picked up on a rumour circulating on Albanian social networks, debunked by Faktoje: the EU did not threaten him with death. 

Attempts to undermine the credibility of the EU also involve defaming its representatives, and the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen is often the target (it is not her grandmother who is shaking hands with Hitler in this black and white photo shared on X, explain the Danish organisation TjekDet and Spanish Newtral).

Climate, a source of renewable disinformation 

The rhetoric aimed at discrediting the EU is not always so frontal, and also intrudes on other popular themes, such as climate change. Traditionally, environmental disinformation denies the very existence of global warming, or disputes the impact of human activity on CO2 emissions. For example, in this article by Demagog, the Polish organisation refutes the ‘benefits’ of global warming.

In recent months, the disinformation discourse seems to be changing shape. According to a recent report from the Climate Facts Europe project, ‘A Fertile Ground for Disinformation’ by the fact-checking organisations Newtral in Spain and Science Feedback in France, fact-checkers are seeing more and more content on the failure of climate solutions. These publications, which are particularly popular on social networks, are said to be fuelling a deep-seated mistrust of the EU and its environmental efforts.

EU climate policy a frequent target

No, the EU has not imposed a limit on the number of passengers in a car, nor on annual mileage in Romania (Sapo). The European Commission will not control access to water and showers in member countries (Maldita), has not banned old cars (Faktograf), and will not determine which fruit and vegetables will be allowed in private gardens (Polígrafo and Correctiv).

Nor have the EU’s decisions led to the catastrophic consequences for marine wildlife, and Polígrafo refutes the falsehood about the death of marine mammals caused by vibrations from offshore wind turbines. 

Discourse around the European farmers’ protests at the beginning of the year has been plagued by climate misinformation, according to Climate Facts Europe, and disinformation speeches have adapted to take on an anti-EU flavour. The EU’s statement on ecocidal agriculture is false, says

Far-right political parties occasionally pick up on this climate disinformation, the report states. They would be used in particular against the European Green Deal, writes AFP France, as did the president of the Polish Law and Justice party Jarosław Kaczyński—who took the opportunity to deny human responsibility for global warming (Demagog). 

Armed conflicts at the center of information warfare 

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, publications have been featuring EU member countries collaborating with Ukraine, such as the deployment of German police and soldiers debunked by dpa factchecking, or the fire in a German factory allegedly producing weapons for Ukraine, proven false by Ellinika Hoaxes

This rhetoric has been particularly aimed at France since this article in Le Monde in March, which quotes Emmanuel Macron as being ready to send ‘some guys’—meaning ‘French military’—to Odessa in the coming year. Last April, AFP France and AFP Poland showed that claims about the deployment of French soldiers in Ukraine were wrong, and the Greek organisation Ellinika Hoaxes illustrated the frequency of this discourse. 

Misinformation demonising Ukrainians

A substantial number of false articles demonise Ukraine and its citizens, for example by associating Ukraine with neo-Nazism. The idea of a resurgence of Nazism in Ukraine, refuted here by Mythdetector, is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s arguments to justify a military operation in Ukraine in February 2022. According to the Kremlin, the EU countries are supporting a far-right, neo-Nazi ideology alongside Ukraine. For example, FactCheck Georgia explains that this Ukrainian soldier was not making a Nazi salute in this photo, but was trying to find his balance, and this other Ukrainian soldier does not actually display a Nazi swastika on his uniform (Mythdetector). 

This anti-Ukraine misinformation is sometimes combined with migration issues, with the presumed aim of boosting the popularity of far-right movements in Europe. For example, Correctiv explains that Ukrainians will not receive their pensions before German citizens. In the run-up to the European elections, this content is not drying up, like this claim, recently recontextualised by Maldita, in which a Moroccan man attacks an elderly woman in Barcelona.

Unsurprisingly, political parties participate in these discourses and manipulate information to promote their agenda, such as the Polish MEP Karol Karski, who disagreed with the adoption of the Pact on Migration and Asylum by the European Parliament in April. Poland won’t have to pay for every migrant it doesn’t accept, corrects Demagog. In Latvia, it’s the same old story: the party called National Alliance is wrong, explains rebaltica, the government will not be forced to choose between welcoming 10,000 migrants from third countries or paying the EU 200 million euros.

Disinformation tries to exploit polarising issues

Disinformation also benefits from the emotional weight of issues that divide public opinion, such as Israel and Palestine. Social networks are inundated with images and videos that appear to show violent encounters taken out of context, such as this video in which militants supposedly charge the official cars of an Israeli representative at Eurovision in Malmö, Sweden, recontextualised by Maldita (the footage was actually from a protest at a 2009 tennis tournament in Malmö), or false domestic policy decisions, such as the German police authorising Islamic State demonstrations but not Palestinian protests, debunked by faktoje

All these articles attest to the deep division on polarising issues in Europe. The trends in disinformation discourse seem to be adapting to European demands, with the aim of discrediting the EU from within. Their impact on the forthcoming European elections remains unknown.