DSA could grant data access to CEE ‘elves’ fighting Kremlin propaganda – EURACTIV.com
Western stakeholders must seek innovative ways to counter Russian information warfare, including cyberactivism, according to a new study. Additionally, the new EU Digital Services Act could unlock the databases of major internet platforms, making the work of cyber activists much more efficient.
So-called “elven armies” – groups of volunteers fighting against pro-Kremlin propaganda – have become popular in the Baltic countries where they cooperate closely with state institutions. However, this is not the case for all EU Member States.
“This was the case in the Czech Republic and under the former government of Andrej Babiš. The state simply did not want to (support the work of the elves)”, Adéla Klečková, author of the to studytold EURACTIV.cz.
Such dissonance between state institutions and “elven” armies limits the state’s ability to fight Russian “trolls” who spread disinformation campaigns. Thus, Klečková pleads for better cooperation of the competent authorities with the group of cyber-activists.
The cyber ‘elves’ movement – founded in 2014 – has spread from Lithuania to 13 countries in Central and Eastern Europe. In 2021, they had around 4,000 volunteers. Their ranks include a wide range of people, including internet enthusiasts, former intelligence officers, and retired soldiers.
Facebook is one of their main battlegrounds as Russian trolls use social media websites to spread their content, which is often based on anti-EU or anti-NATO rhetoric. “On Facebook, elves collect data from the public profiles of prominent pro-Kremlin sympathizers or secret closed troll groups,” the study writes.
The EU is also tackling the problem of misinformation with the new Digital Services Act (DSA). Upcoming legislation will likely force internet platforms to remove harmful content from their sites.
DSA can also affect the activities of elves. As currently drafted, the law would allow “verified researchers” to access data held by major platforms, enabling them to investigate news feeds on social sites first-hand.
However, there is still no consensus on a concrete definition of what a “verified researcher” would be. The European Commission has proposed granting access only to those associated with academic institutions. On the other hand, the European Parliament, in its adopted DSA report, wishes to broaden the scope and grant access to other civil society actors, including the elf community, which could make their work more effective. .
Until then, the armies of elves cooperate across borders, for example by sharing their databases of harmful content.
(Vojtech Freitag, Aneta Zachová | EURACTIV.cz)