This isn’t, contrary to appearances, a complaint about the European Union. It is, rather, an exemplar of the basic problem with any system which attempts to have an official declaration of what is the truth:
“The whole fake news as a concept started spreading at the time of the US presidential election and we thought, well, now is the time.”
It is set to be a busy few weeks. Hedin’s team of three full-time reporters and five student researchers has been bolstered in numbers ahead of the European parliament elections on 26 May and the Danish parliament elections on 5 June.
Denmark’s intelligence services have warned it is “very likely” Russia will seek to manipulate the former, infecting the latter, through a wave of eurosceptic, anti-immigrant content.
The European commission has summoned up visions of an enemy exploiting a “weapon of mass disinformation – a WMD for the modern age” in a clash between populist nationalism out to destroy the EU and defenders of liberal democracy.
Brussels announced in April 2018 that it would support “an independent European network of factcheckers” who would “establish common working methods, exchange best practices, and work to achieve the broadest possible coverage of factual corrections across the EU”.
Participants, the commission said, would be selected from EU members of the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), an offshoot of the US Poynter Institute, a centre for media studies based in Florida.
A year on – and after an EU investment of €1m (£867,000) – eight factchecking organisations in six EU countries have been approved as members of this Brussels-backed collaborative platform, known as the Social Observatory for Disinformation and Social Media Analysis (Soma). Two are IFCN signatories. The network is incomplete, and still not up and running with days to go before Europeans have their vote.
Hand up everyone who thinks that this network of factcheckers will examine press releases, official announcements from, briefing papers put out by, the European Union, European Parliament or European Commission for their veracity?
To take just the one example, a claim that the European Union has caused peace in Europe since the last major unpleasantness. A not unusual claim now, is it? Despite the first shooting war in Europe - in Yugoslavia - since that major unpleasantness being coincident with the creation of the European Union in 1992.
Do note that this really isn’t a point about the EU itself. It’s about the very idea of there being an official definition, enforcement even - as the public sphere is being told, it is being vociferously insisted even that they must, to banish fake news from public discussions - of what is the truth. For that truth will become whatever it is that the people defining it desire, the system will be limited to examining whatever points and subjects those paying for it desire to be examined.
This is going to be true whether it’s D notices to protect national security, the European network to preserve European values or the Soviets making sure none hear about the riches of capitalism.
For who will factcheck the facktcheckers as they dance to the tune of the piper paying them?