Following Russia’s interference in the 2016 US presidential campaign, “disinformation” became a topic du jour. Revelations, detailed in multiple congressional testimonies, of how the Russian government and its proxies infiltrated social-media platforms to spread false narratives and manipulate public discourse jolted the American public and policy makers to attention.
Amid important European elections in 2017, including those in France and Germany, European countries faced the same challenge of how to respond to and resist disinformation campaigns aimed against them. Since the US election, governments, multinational institutions, civil-society groups, and the private sector have launched various initiatives to expose, monitor, and get ahead of disinformation attacks. Through these efforts, the transatlantic community has gleaned three valuables lessons: The problem is broader than Russia or any single actor; a democratic response to malign influence must engage the whole of society; and we must work together to learn from each other’s mistakes and successes as we craft governmental and nongovernmental strategies and solutions.
This paper is part of the broader transatlantic effort to identify democratic solutions for countering disinformation in the short term and building societal resistance to it in the long term. At this point, the transatlantic community has moved beyond acknowledging that it has a problem. Today, we need concrete solutions that can be readily implemented, tested, and refined. Rather than elaborating the details of the challenge, this paper presents a menu of options for key stakeholders: national governments, civil society, and tech companies.
In the process of writing this paper, we drew on a community of experts, practitioners, and policy makers on both sides of the Atlantic who shared their experiences, research, and ideas. Over the last year, we regularly consulted with European partners— academics, journalists, activists, government officials, and analysts—who are engaged in the debate on disinformation.