One full year observation of Information Manipulations Targeting 2024 EU Parliament Elections

Executive Summary

From July 1, 2023, to June 24, 2024, Taiwan AI Labs observed a total of 26,011 events and 335,045 media reports. Within this dataset, 97 battlefields and 1,624 media reports were specifically related to the EU Parliament Election. Out of 2,752,681 identified troll accounts in the total dataset, 20,041 were active in EU election-related discussions. The overall community volume was 55,307,335, of which 268,080 were associated with the EU election topic.

We observed social media troll activities targeting the European Parliament elections between July 2023 and June 2024, detailed analysis has revealed 20,041 troll accounts in related discussions, contributing to 12.58% of the total EU Parliament Election discussions. At the same period, 1,624 instances of major stories, with 16.07% of these instances associated with state-affiliated media from China and Russia.

The digital discourses were influenced by orchestrated campaigns from troll groups, highlighting two primary developments: the purported rise of far-right movements within Europe and initiatives to counteract interference on social media by Russia, large tech firms, and other external actors. These troll-driven narratives foster skepticism towards the threat of extremism and promote endorsement of conservative ideologies, shifting public perception. The report indicates that 11.76% of comments criticize media reporting, accusing them of lacking judgment and exaggerating Russian propaganda’s influence. At the same time, the trolls distorted the impending rollout of EU regulations which aimed at curbing disinformation on social media platforms by distributing the concerns over government censorship impacting the freedom of speech. The trolls at the same time attacked the authority of mainstream media, by expressing disappointment at how news media unable to treat Russian propaganda, destroying the trust of reputable media sources.

Troll groups’ narratives, reinforcing Russian and Chinese state-affiliated media, span concerns challenging EU’s leaderships. Delivered in an approach with a special focus on the continent’s declining living standards and extending to topics beyond the immediate scope of the European Parliament elections. These narratives targeted the following 5 major topics: Russia Ukraine war, energy security, digital regulation, migration, and climate change. The topics and strategies consistent with Russia state-affiliated media demonstrated a concerted effort to shape public discourses.

According to coordinated troll activity observed over bi-monthly periods, this report shows the top troll participated stories. These coordinated efforts manifest in several key areas: Attacks on EU’s support of Ukraine intensified, with troll participation volume surging from 30.5% (July-August 2023) to 34.97% (September-October 2023), exploiting internal divisions. Economic issues, particularly energy security, contributed to 22.04% of troll narratives (September-October 2023) continues to be one of largest battlefields. Troll activities have also played a significant role in amplifying far-right voices, reaching 31.34% in November-December 2023. Compared to Taiwan we observed similar strategies, military expenses and energy security are also among the top stories undermining the government’s trust and allies’ support. At the same time, troll activities in Taiwan also play an important role in distributing the discourses which could support the white party.

After recognizing the narrative strategies, we selected troll groups spanning multiple narratives and identified the top five narratives by troll volume for each group for a detailed analysis. Having identified the Russia-Ukraine war and EU internal disputes as key themes in our narrative strategy analysis, we found two significant groups: one focusing on EU issues and US politics, and another concentrating on the Ukraine-Russia war and US politics. These groups showed an unusual pattern of simultaneously focusing on multiple geopolitical issues across different regions, suggesting coordinated foreign influence attempts.

Two influential troll groups both have distinct strategies to shape global narratives. The first group focuses on Eastern European geopolitics and international military affairs, extensively disseminating stories about the Russia-Ukraine conflict and NATO activities. This group curated narratives from military confrontations to Yevgeny Prigozhin’s assassination, aiming to influence public perception of regional security dynamics. At the same period of time, this group also manipulated Trump indictments. The second group, in contrast, dedicated its efforts towards the internal politics of Western democracies, particularly the UK and the US. This group spreaded negative narratives about political leaders, criticized government decisions, and closely monitored controversial political figures, seemingly intended on swaying voter sentiment and eroding public confidence in democratic institutions.

The strategies employed by these troll groups reveal a landscape of information warfare that is sophisticated and extends beyond traditional propaganda. Unlike more overt disinformation campaigns seen in recent elections or during major global events, these groups operate with subtlety and persistence, weaving their narratives into the fabric of everyday online discourse. Their focus on both international conflicts and domestic politics in Western democracies suggests a nuanced understanding of global power dynamics and the interconnectedness of national and international issues. This approach stands in stark contrast to single-issue disinformation campaigns, such as those targeting specific environmental policies or economic measures. By maintaining a diverse portfolio of narratives across multiple countries and topics, these groups create a pervasive atmosphere of uncertainty and skepticism, potentially influencing public opinion on a scale that isolated, topic-specific campaigns cannot achieve. This comprehensive strategy highlights the evolving nature of information manipulation, posing significant challenges to the integrity of public discourse and the stability of democratic processes worldwide.

As the European Union navigates through this critical period marked by geopolitical shifts, internal challenges, and external manipulations, the role of digital platforms in shaping political narratives becomes evident. The orchestrated activities of troll groups, coupled with the strategic dissemination of narratives that echo state-affiliated media from adversarial nations, highlight a complex web of influence aimed at destabilizing public discourse and swaying electoral outcomes. This environment, ripe with disinformation and polarized ideologies, underscores the urgent need for robust mechanisms to safeguard the integrity of the democratic process.

As EU citizens approach a pivotal election, setting up the AI-powered mechanism with trustworthy partners to establish the collective resilience of the European community against disruptions will be crucial in steering the continent towards a future that reflects its democratic values and principles, ensuring that the voice of the electorate prevails amidst the cacophony of digital warfare.

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