The European Commission has unambiguously pointed the finger at Russia and China as spreaders of disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic. Lithuania’s ambassador to the EU said Brussels should have gone further.
In a communication on ‘Tackling Covid-19 disinformation’, which was presented by EC Vice President Věra Jourová and High Representative Josep Borrell on Wednesday, foreign actors such as Russia and China were named for their role in propagating fake news.
“Foreign actors and certain third countries, in particular Russia and China, have engaged in targeted influence operations and disinformation campaigns around Covid-19 in the EU, its neighbourhood and globally, seeking to undermine democratic debate and exacerbate social polarisation, and improve their own image in the Covid-19 context,” the communication reads.
The purposefully spread disinformation included false advice that drinking bleach or pure alcohol could cure Covid-19 and conspiracy theories claiming that it was “an infection caused by the world’s elites for reducing population growth”.
This is the first time that China is named in an EC report as a spreader of disinformation, Jourová told reporters on Tuesday.
Lithuania’s ambassador to the EU Jovita Neliupšienė praised the EC for clearly identifying the problem and the culprits.
“It is a sign that the EC understands well the scale of the problem,” she said in a statement sent to LRT.
The report also reviews measures taken by online platforms to combat disinformation. The document urges the platforms to provide “more detailed data on their actions to promote authoritative content, improve users’ awareness, and limit coronavirus disinformation and advertising related to it”.
However, this may not be enough to counter the problem, Neliupšienė said.
“It is worrying that the European Commission, having clearly identified social media platforms as the main channels for spreading disinformation, is not going to take any stricter action, at least at this stage, and prefers to count on the good will of the platforms,” she said. “Let’s hope, there will be good will.” EU’s External Action Service was previously criticised for toning down its report on state-led disinformation, refusing to name China in its report following pressure from Beijing.