EU foreign ministers stressed the importance of combatting disinformation

Meeting in Brussels on Monday 21 January as part of the Foreign Affairs Council, the foreign ministers of the European Union discussed the action plan on the fight against disinformation, focusing on its external aspects.

“Last week, when Facebook removed more than 300 sites and accounts controlled from Russia, we saw how important it is for the private sector, NGOs, media and state institutions to join forces in combatting disinformation,” the Foreign Minister said. “We are glad that the EU has drawn up an action plan against disinformation to improve coordination and the exchange of information between member states. It is vital to proceed with implementing the action plan as quickly as possible,” he said.

The European Commission presented its action plan against disinformation late last year. It focuses on improved detection of disinformation, giving a coordinated response to disinformation, raising the awareness and resistance of EU citizens and cooperating with online platforms to stop the spread of disinformation and increase the transparency of political advertising.

Increasing the budget of the East StratCom Task Force of the European External Action Service that specialises in addressing Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaigns is part of the action plan. “The task force has been doing valuable work since 2015 in unveiling information attacks coming from Russia. They have also helped our partners in setting up their communication capabilities and strengthening their independent media,” the minister stressed.

At the meeting with his colleagues, Foreign Minister Mikser highlighted the need to pay closer attention to Russia’s strategic influence in the Western Balkans.

On 17 January, Facebook closed 364 pages and accounts that were linked to long-term and coordinated misconduct. These pages and accounts had 790 000 followers in total. The network was managed from Russia and it aimed to amplify the messages of the Kremlin news agency Rossiya Segodnya and its online portal Sputnik. Sputnik is an online and radio company and its founding ukase includes the advancement of Russian interests and explaining its foreign policy abroad. The network operated in the Baltic States, Central Asia and the Caucasus, as well as in Eastern and Central European states. According to initial data, 13 pages linked to Estonia with a combined following of 19 000 were closed.

The EU foreign ministers also discussed the situation in Venezuela and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and prepared for the 4 February EU – League of Arab States ministerial meeting. The meeting also took note of the joint visit to Ukraine by the foreign ministers of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, stressing the need for the EU to pay more attention to the region in light of the events on the Sea of Azov. The Foreign Affairs Council is followed by the ministerial meeting of the EU and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Additional information:
Sandra Kamilova
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia
Communication Department