As Europe faces a year of crucial elections, a movement is coalescing to fight the tide of fake news, hacking and hate speech spreading across the Internet. From Germany to France, Spain, Italy, and beyond, governments, institutions and the media are scrambling to formulate practical responses to a danger that many think poses the greatest threat to Western democracies since the Cold War.
Concerns were heightened after the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States last November, a surprise victory that left many wondering if Russian hacking and fake news shaved just enough points from Hilary Clinton’s vote count to swing the election. A fake news factory was traced to a town of 44,000 in Macedonia, where massive numbers of sensational stories were copied from extremist sources and pasted onto deceptive websites, then promoted over an equally astounding number of counterfeit social media accounts.
The European Union has created a multinational group known as East Stratcom to battle what it says is Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaign. Led by a 10-member team of diplomats, bureaucrats and former journalists with backgrounds in a range of languages, the myth-busters have debunked some 2,500 fake stories since March 2015, but they acknowledge it is just as a drop in the ocean of misinformation.
Germany is now engaged in a strenuous battle against “alternative facts”, with Thomas Oppermann of the Social Democratic Party calling for stiff daily fines on social media if fake reports are not quickly removed. Facebook now employs independent fact checkers in Germany who contact original sources of a story if the headline looks suspicious or originates from a dubious website. In France, mainstream media and civil society groups have launched a project called CrossCheck that works to track and stem the spread of viral fake news stories, while Facebook users can flag suspicious content and send it to a pool of moderators.
Italy’s head of the lower house of parliament Laura Boldrini said that “fake news is the anteroom of hatred and debunking it is an action of civil resistance”. In response she has launched the website http://www.bastabufale.it, or “stop fake news”.
“No mere college prank, fake news can cause real harm to people – just think of those about paediatric vaccines, improvised medical therapies or online scams,” she said.
A community of Italian communicators, teachers and influencers including Boldrini also launched http://www.paroleostili.com, a platform and manifesto against the dangers inherent in hate speech, which can sow the seeds of actual violence. Boldrini has written to Mark Zuckenberg, CEO of Facebook, asking for an answer about closed groups that praise sexism and violence or apologise for fascism. She wonders if the lack of local responsiveness is due to the absence of a Facebook operations office in Italy.
In Spain, the El País newspaper has begun to respond to fake news, partly for its readers in Mexico, by assigning five more reporters to debunk false reports and starting a blog to discredit offenders they uncover. Also of concern in Europe is expansion of the alt-right website Breitbart News, formerly headed by Steve Bannon, currently Trump’s top advisor in the White House. Now with operations in the UK, Germany, France and Italy, it is using the same approach that worked in the US by appealing to anti-globalisation and anti-immigrant sentiment and through aligning itself with opposition parties.
More recently, Breitbart “revealed” that a “1,000-man mob” of immigrants attacked police and set “Germany’s oldest church” alight on New Year’s Eve in Dortmund. A BBC investigation found eyewitnesses, including one quoted by Breibart, who said the story “misrepresented true events in service of an agenda that was divisive and unjust”.
But the threat doesn’t only come from those with a political agenda. Perhaps a bigger motive is profit. Unscrupulous creators of websites have found that the most outrageous stories have the best chance of going viral online, so they churn out sites with completely untrue, sensational stories, then use Facebook and Google ads to spread and monetise the vast numbers of clicks. The two Internet giants have responded with initiatives, but most view the progress as limited at best.
And fake news can have lasting effects even if discredited. Last November Oxford Dictionaries chose “post-truth” as its international word of the year. The adjective denotes circumstances where objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. Use of the term increased some 2,000 per cent in 2016 over the year previous. More than trying control the vast in the liquid ecosystem of the Web, the long-term answer is likely education and instruction in critical thinking. A Stanford study confirmed that teenagers absorb social media news without considering the source. More than ever those in the smartphone generation need to be alert to the accuracy of claims.
For now Europe, like the rest of the world, can only hope to dampen some of the more damaging effects of fake news. Whether a solution can be found remains to be seen, but many on the continent are now girding for the battle.
Jon Van Housen and Mariella Radaelli are editors at Luminosity Italia, a news agency based in Milan, Italy.
Source : Khaleej Times
A street in downtown Helsinki. Finland is increasingly turning to Russia.
HELSINKI — After decades of pursuing trade with Western Europe, Finland is becoming dependent on Russia again as that country’s burgeoning middle class and wealthy investors provide opportunities for growth lacking in recession-hit Europe.
While some Finns still view their eastern neighbor and former ruler with suspicion, expectations of only a slow European recovery mean more businesses are likely to embrace closer ties with Russia, signaling a readjustment after two decades of close commercial relations with Europe.
Recent trade data show a shift has already begun. Finnish exports to the rest of the European Union fell 4 percent year on year in the first five months of 2013, while those to Russia rose 4 percent.
Judging from second-quarter corporate results, which showed a wide range of companies hit by uncertainty in Europe, Finland may become even more dependent on Russia. Top companies such as retailer Kesko and department store chain Stockmann have cited Russia as their strongest card.
Kesko, which controls about 35 percent of Finland’s grocery and hardware trade, opened its second Russian food store in May and plans eight more in the next three years.
The expansion, which capitalizes on strong consumer trends as well as Finland’s high reputation for food safety and product quality, comes as Kesko has cut hundreds of jobs in Finland and lowered its profit forecasts.
“The growth potential that the Russian markets offer to Finland is truly remarkable in the longer term,” chief financial officer Jukka Erlund said.
Stockmann on Friday reported a surprise rise in quarterly operating profit, saying strong earnings in Russia, particularly at its department store in St. Petersburg, offset weak spending in Finland.
Tire maker Nokian Renkaat started production in Russia in 2005 and has since been boosting capacity at its Vsevolozhsk factory near St. Petersburg, enough to make it Russia’s market leader in passenger vehicle tires.
“Finland and Finnish products have an excellent reputation in the country. Culturally, we are considered honest, almost naive,” the tire maker’s chief executive Kim Gran said. “Finland’s small businesses should make a stronger effort to establish operation in Russia.”
Exports to Russia have almost tripled since 2000, led by growing demand for a range of goods including mining machinery, wood products and chemicals in addition to gadgets such as Nokia’s mobile phones.
While Russia’s growth has recently shown signs of slowing down amid falling oil and gas prices, economists say it still provides much-needed support for the small Finnish economy that is running a current account deficit and is expected to contract in 2013 for the second year in a row.
Historically, Finland’s dependence on its powerful neighbor, which was also its ruler through the 19th century, is not particularly new. Postwar Finland relied heavily on trade with the Soviet Union.
But the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 triggered a deep recession in Finland, prompting its leaders to turn westward and seek greater integration with Europe by joining the EU and the euro in a switch that economists say helped Finland become one of the world’s richest economies per capita.
While official relations with Russia are now mostly cordial, there is still a feeling of mistrust, particularly among older generations who experienced the 1939-40 Winter War and subsequent Continuation War against the Soviet Union.
Finnish men still spend up to a year in compulsory military service, training to defend their 1,340-km (840 miles) border to the east.
Businesses, however, are putting aside such historic grudges as rubles make up for a lack of domestic and European funds.
For example, Russia’s Rosatom recently emerged as the primary candidate to supply a reactor for Finland’s nuclear consortium Fennovoima. Rosatom has said it may invest in the project, estimated to cost about 4 billion to 6 billion euros, which would put to rest funding concerns after German utility E.ON announced its exit from the consortium.
In another high-profile deal, Russian-Finnish billionaire Gennady Timchenko and other associates of President Vladimir Putin agreed in June to buy Finland’s biggest ice hockey and concert venue in Helsinki, and the local Jokerit team is expected to join Russia’s KHL hockey league.
Russian wealth is also becoming more visible at street level.
The number of Russian visitors rose 10 percent last year to 3.6 million, accounting for nearly half of all foreign visitors. To accommodate such customers, many on tax-free shopping expeditions, Stockmann’s flagship store in downtown Helsinki recently started accepting rubles.
An increasing number of Russians are also investing in Finnish property, drawn by the country’s safety and abundance of lakeside cottages. A recent government study showed Russian consumers could spend 2.4 billion euros on Finnish real estate through 2030.
The same report, however, also showed over half of those Finnish lawmakers who were surveyed support restrictions on Russian property ownership.
“They have to be carefully evaluated, near military sites,” one anonymous politician wrote. “Overall, security has to be taken into account.”
The Moscow Times
Thursday, 1 August 2013 10:21 AM
It has been a busy week for Australian footballers playing abroad with Asian competitions returning and friendlies heating up in Europe.
Former Central Coast Mariner Daniel McBreen scored one of the goals of the year playing for Chinese Super League club Shanghai East Asia.
The 2012-13 A-League Golden Boot winner scored a stunning lob from distance in the 26th minute to give his side a 1-0 lead.
Another former Mariner Bernie Ibini also played a full game for Shanghai while Aussie Daniel Mullen played a full game for Dalian Aerbin.
Despite his heroics, McBreen and Dalian could only secure a 2-2 draw, their third draw in a row, with Shanghai East Asia leaving them in ninth on the table.
In other Chinese Super League action Joel Griffiths came on in the second half and scored to give his side Qingdao Jonoon a 1-0 lead before the match against Changchun YaTai finished in a 1-1 draw, while Erik Paartalu played a full game as his side Tianjin Teda claimed a 1-0 victory over Hangzhou.
Socceroos hero Josh Kennedy helped his J-League side Nagoya Grampus to a 3-1 victory with a double against Kashima Antlers.
Kennedy has now scored six goals in 13 appearances as the side moved nine points above the relegation zone.
The 11th placed club will feel justified in its decision to not release him to play in the EAFF East Asian Cup despite him being called up by coach Holger Osieck.
Off the back of playing at the EAFF Cup for the Socceroos, Robbie Cornthwaite came on as a substitute for his K-League team Chunnam Dragons as they won 2-1 over Seongnam.
In Europe, Robbie Kruse played in a friendly for new club Bayern Leverkusen against fellow Bundesliga club FC Kaiserslautern.
The former Fortuna Dusseldorf and Melbourne Victory forward played 80 minutes as he looks to break into the starting side for the impending season.
Fellow Aussie Bundesliga player Mitch Langerak kept a clean sheet after playing a full match for his club Borussia Dortmund against lower league club Wurzberger Kickers as his side won 3-0.
Aston Villa’s Chris Herd played the second half in the side’s 5-0 friendly victory over Walsall FC as he hopes to also secure a spot in the side’s starting eleve when the EPL season begins.
Last weekend’s action saw Oliver Bozanic (FC Luzern) score a brace to give his Swiss Super League team a 3-2 victory while Matthew Leckie could not get his Bundesliga 2 side FSV Frankfurt a result despite scoring as they went down 2-1.
Socceroos hero Tim Cahill was also amongst the goals as he score in the 11th minute for New York Red Bulls in their 4-3 victory over Real Salt Lake as the side remained 2nd in the MLS. An injury he picked up from the game will however keep him out of the MLS All Stars game to be held today.