Investigations

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Covid-19 vaccines and “related” deaths: A journey through European disinformation narratives

Since the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines began on a global scale, a specific false narrative started circulating in virtually all European countries: people who received the vaccine were dying.

Taken out of context, this narrative can alter public trust toward vaccines in general and thus jeopardize the enormous efforts that are being made to deliver them to as many people as possible, in order to finally put an end to the pandemic.

Pagella Politica and Facta collaborated with Soma members from Globograma, eVAI Intelligence, DebunkEU, the Institute for future media and communications at Dublin City University, and Les Surligneurs to analyze how this and similar claims spread across Europe.

Debunk EU: NATO drills, COVID-19 measures, and alleged interference in Belarus used to target the Baltics and Poland

While the second wave of COVID-19 is raging, the pandemic still is at the core of false/misleading information targeting Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Poland. Accusations of not being able to handle the crisis, spread by the Kremlin related media, doubled down on the ever-present narratives of Baltic countries and Poland serving the West by interfering in Belarus and allowing NATO military exercises on their territory.

In November 2020, Debunk EU analysed 1,175 articles with false and misleading content from 102 media outlets in the Baltic countries and Poland in English, Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish and Russian languages. The articles had a potential reach of 226 million contacts.

Involved member: DebunkEU team

Kremlin related media: Baltic countries and Poland are unable to counter COVID-19

The worldwide health crisis brought by COVID-19 is exhausting not only for healthcare systems, businesses, entire communities, but the media as well. The pandemic is being used to spread false and misleading narratives with one single aim – discrediting the Baltic countries and Poland and their efforts to fight the pandemic. According to Debunk EU analysis, in November the main targets of disinformation became quarantine measures, vaccination programs, NATO exercise, and general abilities of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Poland to cope with the virus.

In November 2020, Debunk EU team analysed 213 articles with false and misleading content from 47 media outlets in the Baltic countries and Poland in English, Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish and Russian languages. The articles had a potential reach of 6.6 million contacts. The analysts have also looked through 108 misleading/false posts about COVID-19 posted on Facebook in Lithuanian language.

Involved member: DebunkEU team

Disinformation about Covid-19 and vaccines: a journey across Europe

Since the very first months of the Covid-19 pandemic, almost 100 different pharmaceutical companies have been working on a solution to immunize the world’s population against the new coronavirus Sars-CoV-2.

Unfortunately – but not unexpectedly – the closer researchers got to finding effective vaccines, the more disinformation was spread about their potential dangers, raising doubts and fostering skepticism among the general public. 

Pagella Politica and Facta conducted a collaborative investigation with members of the SOMA network in order to identify the most common examples of disinformation about Covid-19 and vaccines that traveled across Europe. 

Pagella Politica, Facta, Globograma, Institute for future media and communications at DCU, eVAI Intelligence, Debunk.eu, Stephanie Winkler, Les Surligneurs, and  Factcheck Vlaanderen contributed to this investigation.

Negative posts on Facebook sought to discredit democratic processes in Lithuania

With the new government starting their term, Lithuanian parliamentary election of 2020 is still in the spotlight. Political campaigns often become subjects of attempts to discredit, spread divisive narratives, and confuse voters by spreading false/misleading information. The main targets of negative communication on Facebook concerning the election were electoral process, electoral management body, and participants in the election themselves. According to Debunk EU, those messages potentially sought to discourage people from voting because of COVID-19 pandemic, discredit the Central Electoral Commission, and enhance the negative attitude towards the political system in Lithuania.

Involved Members: DebunkEU

COVID-19 related disinformation becomes a tool to promote anti-Baltic narratives

As global health organizations keep voicing their concerns about alarming rates of COVID-19 cases, specialists are also warning about the infodemic which was inflicted by the coronavirus. Debunk EU analysis has shown that false and misleading information about COVID-19 did not only affect public perception of the virus in the Baltic countries but was also used to validate Kremlin-promoted cliches.

Involved Members: DebunkEU

All the lies spread by Hold-Up, the new French documentary that turned into a hit among Covid-19 conspiracy theorists 

Released online on November 11, 2020, the French documentary Hold-Up is a potpourri of all the main points touched by conspiracy theorists who aim at denying the existence of an ongoing global health crisis. Six days after its release, the doc reached more than a million views on YouTube and was seen by 3 million people on the streaming platform Odyssee. At the moment, the film hasn’t been translated into Italian and, with the exception of Belgium, it seems that it is not circulating outside France.

Involved Members: Age Platform UE

Breaches in regulation for political ads on social media pose a risk on electoral transparency

Political advertising on social media has given political parties and candidates more possibilities for reaching their constituents. Throughout the past decade the importance of advertising on Facebook and other networks has grown exponentially — however, social media giants are facing frequent criticism over the lack of regulations concerning political ads. According to Debunk EU analysis, from July 15th to October 24th there were 6076 ads about 2020 Lithuanian Parliamentary Election posted on Facebook. More than 407 900 Euros were spent on political ads of parties and its candidates on Facebook during analysed period, the Labour Party invested the most into political advertising on this social network.

Involved Members: DebunkEU

“Irrelevant and insignificant”: depiction of the Baltics in pro-Kremlin media

With the focus slowly moving away from the political upheaval in Belarus, the ever-present narrative of Russophobia is regaining its popularity in the Kremlin-related media. This rhetoric goes in line with depicting Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia as irrelevant, irrational, and incompetent players in the international arena, as well as in their domestic affairs. Throughout the 1st – 31st of October, Debunk EU analysts found 666 articles with false and misleading content from 53 pro-Kremlin media outlets in the Baltic states in English, Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, and Russian languages. The articles had a potential reach of 216.8 million contacts.

Involved Members: DebunkEU

The three common threads that link anti-lockdown protests in Europe

As the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic started hitting Europe, people in several countries took to the streets to protest against the imposition of new restrictive measures. 

Pagella Politica conducted a collaborative investigation with members of the SOMA network aimed at analyzing these demonstrations, and discovered that most of them are linked together by three main elements: violence, extremism, and disinformation. 

NTCenter, Faktabaari, Prague Security Institute, Institute of Information Security participated in this investigation.

Covid-19 and amateur sports: the situation in Europe

On October 13, 2020 the Italian Prime minister Giuseppe Conte signed into law a new Decree containing a number of measures aimed at halting the Covid-19 pandemic. Among other restrictions, the government decided to ban all kinds of competitions and activities related with contact sports at the amateur level. Pagella Politica collaborated with international fact-checkers and with members of the SOMA network, and discovered that similar measures are currently being enforced in other regions as well.

Involved Members: evAI Intelligence, Institute for Future Media and Journalism

Why do we believe in fake news? A journey into the cognitive layers of disinformation

Pagella Politica and Facta partnered with De Facto – a project funded by the European Union, designed and managed by Bulgarian researchers at NTCenter – conducted a collaborative investigation aimed at exploring how our cognitive layers contribute to the way we manage misinformation, and make us believe or deny the claims we interact with on a daily basis. 

Relevant material about this investigation was gathered through Truly Media, a collaborative platform used to verify digital content. 

Involved Members: De Facto/NTCenter

Is it true that Italy was the «first major European country» to adopt a contract-tracing app?

On June 2, during an interview with the national newscast Tg1, the Italian minister for Innovation and Digitalization Paola Pisano said that, among major European countries, Italy was «the first one» to adopt a national contact-tracing application. Pagella Politica fact-checked Pisano’s claim, and found it to be slightly inaccurate. Several SOMA partners took part in the investigation: the Austrian Center for Digital Humanities and Cultural Heritage, Maison Moderne, VOSTEuskadi, and Stratpol.

COVID-19 AND THROMBOSIS: MISINFORMATION THAT FLEW AROUND THE WORLD

Starting from early April, a long message began circulating online claiming that Covid-19 is actually a thrombosis and not a case of pneumonia. The news was shared in a variety of languages and countries, as confirmed by fellow SOMA members from VOSTEuskadi and Factchecker.gr. In this analysis, we shed some light on the content of the viral message by gathering official information from authoritative sources in the medical and scientific international community.

Involved Members: VOSTEuskadi and Factchecker.gr.

COVID-19: SCHOOL CLOSURES IN EUROPE

As the COVID-19 epidemic spreads all over the world, countries decided to implement extraordinary restrictive measures aimed at stopping contagions and easing the extreme levels of pressure experienced by hospitals and healthcare workers. In order to favor social distancing practices and avoid large gatherings, 26 out of 27 European countries – the only exception being Sweden – decided to close schools and move to online learning classes. Here is an updated overview of the current situation. To complete this investigation, Pagella Politica has collaborated with several members of the SOMA network, including the Austrian Center for Digital Humanities and Cultural Heritage, Artevelde Hogeschool, University of Nicosia, Faktabaari, Ekome, Maison Moderne, and Kosciuszko Institute.

Since March 10, 2020, Italian residents who leave their household must fill out a “self-declaration form”  to be carried with them to justify the reasons for their movement in case they are asked by police authorities. Pagella Politica has started a research to find out which European countries have adopted the same measure in order to contrast the Covid-19 epidemic. As SOMA network member Ellinika Hoaxes confirmed, the self-declaration form was mandatory in Greece from March 23 to May 4, 2020. The measure has also been adopted in France, where it is still effective.

Involved Members: Ellinika Hoaxes

COVID-19 AND 5G: HOW TO STOP CONSPIRACY THEORIES FROM SPREADING

Last week SOMA – the European Observatory against Disinformation – has published an investigation that details a series of hoaxes and conspiracy theories related to an alleged correlation between Covid-19 and 5G technology. This investigation comes at a point in which disinformation on this issue is trending (graph is included), leading – as we will see – to unexpected and dangerous consequences.

Involved Members: Pagella Politica with support from the SOMA network

COVID-19 AND 5G: WHAT HAPPENS WHEN HOAXES FIND EACH OTHER?

In the same way of legitimate news outlets, disinformation websites have a tendency to focus again and again on some beloved topics. One of these is the idea that 5G technology is harmful to human health, a claim that is has been repeatedly debunked.
But what happens to these beloved topics when a newcomer emerges, as in the case of Covid-19? Does one trump the other?

Involved Members: MimiKama (Austria), Peter Burger (Netherlands), Kamil Mikulski (Poland), Martti Asikainen and FaktaBaari (Finland)

OFFICIAL SOURCES ON COVID-19

In recent weeks, a series of false news on Covid-19 – a disease that has originated in China and that is now spreading around the entire globe – have been circulating on social media and disinformation websites. For this reason, on the 19th of February SOMA – the European Observatory against Disinformation – published an article that debunks some of the most misleading pieces of information on the virus outbreak.

Involved Members: Pagella Politica (a fact-checking organization from Italy) and Stephanie Winkler (Independent contributor to SOMA).

Written by Pagella Politica.

Organizations that have kindly provided us with information: Mimikama (Austria and Germany), Delano (Luxembourg), Ellinika Hoaxes and Ekome (Greece), VostEuskadi (Spain) and University of Zagreb (Croatia).

FALSE NEWS SPREAD MORE RAPIDLY THAN CORONAVIRUS 2019-nCoV

In a globalized world, viruses have the potential to spread rapidly across the human population in all continents. However, these pathogens spread at a rate that pales in comparison with the speed at which false news on those very pathogens is disseminated online. The recent outbreak of the Coronavirus 2019-nCoV is not an exception to this rule. Regardless of the fact that many Western countries have experienced very low numbers of cases, social media users have been posting alarming news regarding outbreaks in their own country. At the same time, conspiracy theories related to the origins of this virus have been created.

Involved Members: Pagella Politica (a fact-checking organization from Italy) and Stephanie Winkler (Independent contributor to SOMA).

Matteo Renzi – former Italian Prime Minister – has said that the Italian “cultural pass”, a policy that grants €500 to 18-year-old kids for culturally related purchases (books, tickets for cultural events, etc.), has been replicated all around Europe. Pagella Politica has found this claim to be inaccurate. As confirmed by other SOMA partners (Eurasylum, Front Europejski, Delano, Faktabaari, Le Monde Diplomatique) there is no such policy in other European countries, the only exception being France, which has adopted this measure experimentally.

Involved Members: Eurasylum, Front Europejski, Delano, Faktabaari, Le Monde Diplomatique

In the last days Sanna Marin, the new young Prime Minister of Finland, has been mentioned by international news outlets for an alleged proposal for reducing the number of working hours per week. However, the Prime Minister has not officially advanced such a proposal and the Finnish government has specified that this measure is not on the government’s agenda. But how and why has this story started? Thanks to the help of the Finnish fact-checkers from FaktaBaari, Pagella Politica has carried out an investigation on the origins of this global misunderstanding.

Involved Members: Faktabaari, Pagella Politica

Is it safe to judge the popularity of a political party based on the number of its Twitter followers? Probably not. Following BuzzFeed’s article regarding the suspicious nature of the rapid increase in followers of the Twitter account of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, Pagella Politica has started an analysis of the Twitter followers of the main Italian political parties.

Involved Members: Pagella Politica

Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orbán has delivered a speech in which he questioned Finland’s role in judging Hungary’s adherence to the Rule of Law based on some institutional features of the Nordic country.

But what is the Rule of Law? Is Orbán’s description of Finland’s legal system accurate? Are the elements mentioned by Orbán fundamental to the Rule of Law? Pagella Politica and Faktabaari have decided to undertake a joint effort in order to answer to these queries.

The result? The Hungarian Prime Minister grossly misrepresents Finnish institutional system and the principles of the Rule of law to prove his point.

Involved Members: Factabaari, Pagella Politica

What are the hottest topics for false information in different EU countries? Thanks to the collaboration with the Finnish fact-checking organization FaktaBaari, Pagella Politica has compared their most recurrent themes in Italy and Finland to see whether major differences exist. The outcome of the investigation was that in both countries migrants and people of different religions are most often at the core of disinformation campaigns. In Italy, however, another very recurrent theme for false news is politicians, whereas the same is not true for Finland.

Involved Members: FaktaBaari, Pagella Politica