China and Russia were blamed for spewing out false and misleading online information about Covid-19 in a European Union report that seeks to stem the unprecedented spread of fake news amid the pandemic.
The two nations are among foreign actors that sought to undermine democratic debate and enhance their own image through targeted influence operations and disinformation campaigns around Covid-19 in the EU, the bloc's executive authority said in the report published on Wednesday.
It would be too dangerous not to act, European Commission Vice-President Vera Jourova told reporters in Brussels. She said the pandemic showed us that false information could do serious harm, could kill citizens even and could undermine the public authorities' response and therefore also weaken the measures taken.
The EC has in recent months stepped up pressure on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to help stem the flow of misleading content about the virus, vaccines or alleged cures on their sites. It's part of a broader goal to fight hate speech and disinformation online that could lead to new EU regulation to make tech giants more accountable and responsible.
The EU said in the report there's been an unprecedented infodemic that has fed on people's most basic anxieties as most of them were forced to stay socially confined and revert to an increased use of social media to access information. Given the novelty of the virus, gaps in knowledge have proven to be an ideal breeding ground for false or misleading narratives to spread.
The EU's findings on China and Russia are based on a separate study by the commission's foreign and diplomatic wing, which said it had evidence of a coordinated push by official Chinese sources to deflect blame for the coronavirus pandemic and promote its response to the virus. EU foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell, who heads the service, has worked with Jourova over the last few weeks on the latest plans.
The accusations against Russia and China reflect EU efforts to find an external enemy to paper over European divisions exposed by the pandemic, Leonid Slutsky, head of the foreign affairs committee of the Russian lower house of parliament, said according to state news service RIA Novosti. China's foreign ministry didn't respond to a request for comment.