Josep Borrell singles out China for disinformation campaign against the West

Speaking in Parliament on Thursday, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs said that China, and to a lesser extent, Russia, had “participated in this” during the ongoing health crisis.

Josep Borrell | Photo credit: European Parliament Audiovisual

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

18 Jun 2020


During a Parliament debate on disinformation, Borrell said, “China has been much more active though and the EU needs to take a stand against this.”

His comments come on the day the plenary votes to approve the creation of a new special committee which aims to combat disinformation and fake news.

They also come after he recently had to defend the organisation he heads, the European External Action Service, from MEP criticism that it watered down a report which was critical of Chinese-led disinformation campaigns.


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The European External Action Service is said to have had given in to pressure from Beijing and softened the report on disinformation to appease China.

Borrell made no reference to the report, but instead condemned China, saying it had spearheaded disinformation efforts.

“This sort of thing can do real damage, and, in the case of a health pandemic, it causes yet more damage.”

“This sort of thing can do real damage, and, in the case of a health pandemic, it causes yet more damage”

He cited examples of fake news such as claims that “bleach can cure the virus.”

“This has been said although I won’t name any names, that if you drink bleach you will be safe. It has also been said that you do not need to wash your hands.”

“This can also spark crime such as the vandalism we witnessed against 5G infrastructure in some member states like the Netherlands.”

Borrell, a former Parliament President, said, “The EU is tackling this and stepping up its actions to counter the problem. This is important because democracy is the target of these people.”

The pandemic, he said, “is clearly being exploited by state and non-state actors who spread conspiracy theories and disinformation campaigns. The aim is to sow confusion.”

“Looking ahead, we will step up our actions including sharing best practice in fighting and debunking disinformation and the monitoring of violations of press freedom.”

Meanwhile, social media giant Facebook has announced a series of changes to political adverts following sustained criticism.

The platform says it will allow people in the United States and other countries to opt out of viewing social issue, electoral or political ads from candidates or political action committees in their Facebook or Instagram feeds.

There has been widespread concern about targeted political advertising on the site and a lack of transparency about who has paid for adverts.

“We will step up our actions including sharing best practice in fighting and debunking disinformation and the monitoring of violations of press freedom”

Facebook said it will now show who paid for a political ad even after it has been shared by another user and will begin tracking spending on a candidate-by-candidate basis.

The social media platform also said it is taking further steps to prevent foreign interference ahead of this year’s US Presidential election.

Facebook is launching the ‘largest voting information effort in US history’, claiming it will help millions of Americans register to vote with a new voting information centre.

Former UK Liberal MEP and ex-UK deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, now Facebook’s vice-president of global affairs and communications, said on Thursday the company had pulled “a number” of Donald Trump campaign ads.

The UK-based Open Knowledge Foundation has been campaigning against the spread of disinformation online and has called for greater transparency on political ads.

Its CEO, former Scottish MEP Catherine Stihler, said, “The public has demanded greater transparency around political adverts, and it’s welcome that Facebook is listening to what people are saying.”

“Giving users the option to opt out of political ads is a positive step and the further measures to prevent the spread of disinformation are welcome.”

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