A few weeks before the recent European elections Huffington Post Greece gave us the opportunity to speak about the SOMA Observatory initiative against disinformation. SOMA project coordinator, Nikos Sarris, Head of the Innovation Lab in Athens Technology Center (ATC), elaborated meticulously on the tools that the Observatory deploys to serve fact checkers, detect bots and trolls, and also on the necessity for the European community to work against disinformation in a wider context.
Regarding the EU governments’ readiness upon the coming elections, Mr. Sarris stressed that the electoral integrity depends on how national governments deal with malicious intruders entering the public dialogue. In specific, he recognized that some countries acknowledged the problem earlier, unlike others that unfortunately have not dealt with it at all. According to Mr. Sarris, the problem is that well organised fact-checking, requires significant resources, which are usually not available; this weakness is exploited by those who want to undermine democracy though disinformation. “Unfortunately, the fight against disinformation is uneven; malicious actors have great financial benefit from their actions and can easily fund disinformation campaigns. It is positive that fact-checking organizations and initiatives are becoming more and are getting better organized, but still this side is significantly disadvantaged”, SOMA’s coordinator mentions.
Continuing with the major issue of fake accounts, trolls and bots on several social networks, Nikos Sarris explained that ‘it is very easy to create a fake account and it is even easier to purchase followers. In this way, an entire ecosystem can be easily created, promoting disinformation’. Additionally, he mentioned ‘in ATC we have been working for many years in several research projects and initiatives to create tools that not only help professionals detect fraudulent information, but most importantly educate citizens to recognize such practices on their own and not to be victims of disinformation. ”The first tool is Truly Media a collaborative platform co-developed with Germany’s international public service broadcaster Deutsche Welle to help users analyze and assess the trustworthiness of digital content in real time. Furthermore, the second tool is Truthnest, a Twitter-based content analysis application that provides access to a variety of KPIs that generate a comprehensive user profile based on an account’s activity, network and influence. Trolls can be easily identified while each account’s profile is appointed with a ‘probability score’ for being a bot.
Overall, Nikos Sarris pinpointed that in order to tackle disinformation, we need to restore trust to the official institutions. ‘There is a wider crisis of trust within the society. SOMA’s next goal focuses on creating national observatories across Europe, starting from Denmark and Italy. Our overall goal is to establish a unified European institution against disinformation’.