The Brief, powered by AmCham EU – When in Rome, disinform as the Romans do

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

On 2 September 31BC, the Ionian Sea played host to a battle that would signal the end of the Roman Republic and the start of the Roman Empire.

The victor, Octavian, would go on to consolidate power over Rome as the new emperor and the defeated Marcus Antonius would merely be consigned to the recesses of history.

The Battle of Actium was the culmination of a bitter dispute between Octavian and Antonius that had led to a virulent and invidious slander campaign.

Antonius, spending much of his time between the bedsheets with Cleopatra in Egypt, had not the public presence that Octavian had managed to substantiate in Rome. It was not long before Octavian realised he could mobilise the Roman public to support his cause of banishing Antonius from the body politic.

Octavian obtained a document which he alleged to be the last will and testament of Antonius. The papers stated that he intended to leave Roman-held territories in the eastern Mediterranean to Cleopatra and that his burial should be in the mausoleum of the Ptolemaic kings in Alexandria.

As Octavian had probably foreseen, the public were incensed and their previous support for Antonius soon turned to anger for his proposed treason.

The story of Octavian’s yielding of Antonius’s will in the senate is widely regarded as the first example of a disinformation campaign in the history of western civilisation.

We’ve come a long way since ancient Rome, yet disinformation still has the same incendiary capacity. From Russia’s alleged involvement in the 2016 presidential election and in the Brexit campaign, the reach and influence of disinformation is undeniable.

The European Commission announced a new code of practice today, whose signatories so far include Google, Facebook, Twitter and Mozilla. The announcement was made with next year’s European elections dawning on the horizon.

Recent research conducted by MIT shows that false stories reached 100x bigger audiences online and spread much faster and broader than true stories. Moreover, six in 10 people will share an article online having only read its title.

Disinformation is a proven instrument in configuring a public political consensus. When used as part of a systematic strategy, its effects can be colossal in influencing the outcome of elections and referendums.

There are many who are calling for tougher measures than the commission’s code of practice, for concrete punitive sanctions to apply to platforms who do not comply in countering the spread of online disinformation. And with the very integrity of the democratic process at stake, one can hardly blame the Commission’s critics for thinking so.

When the pendulums of government can swing so wildly and impulsively, Europe should make sure that it does not face the same calamitous fate as Antonius.


The Atlantic separates us, but 15 million jobs bring us together. The US and Europe are deeply linked, and our economies can only thrive together. Coming soon: #ThrivingTogether, a transatlantic platform powered by AmCham EU.


The Roundup

By Alexandra Brzozowski

How long can German Chancellor Angela Merkel cling to power? After her closest ally Volker Kauder was voted out of office, some say the countdown has begun.

Not all is rosy in the S&D family. MEPs have lashed out against Romania’s Prime Minister Viorica Dăncilă over the upcoming referendum in the country that seeks to ban same-sex marriage,

There will be no second Brexit referendum and the Chequers Plan is not dead, according to UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid. British PM Theresa May, however, seems to dream about complete different stuff.

The Eurozone needs a budget to help bind its members closer together and address economic inequality that tears at its seams and counter populism’s ascent, an EU official demanded.

Mind the day! The European Parliament welcomed its first accredited four-legged friend as Dinky the guide horse is the first animal to be officially let into the intuitions grounds.

While France seems to be in the process of getting back on track with regard to international solidarity, some ambiguities in the 2019 budget are a cause of concern for NGOs.

EU ambassadors approved a new EU sanctions regime on chemical weapons in the wake of the Salisbury attack. Meanwhile, EU’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini demonstrated the correct response when the Kremlin offers tea.

The US, however, is ‘disturbed and deeply disappointed’ over the EU’s defiance towards the Iran sanctions. Disturbing was also the reaction to US President Trump’s speech at the UN Assembly yesterday.

A group of tech giants has agreed to abide by landmark new standards set out by the Commission in the crusade against the dissemination of fake news across the EU.

‘Healthy mind, healthy body’, so the saying goes – but both are affected by the buildings in which we live and work. Read the first part of our Special Report.

Speaking of health, the Commission is pushing for a “quick fix” solution to the alcohol labelling deadlock before the end of its mandate.

According to Bayer, the connection between digital farming and sustainable production is not yet clear in the minds of many policymakers…

Look out for…

Our event EP ELECTIONS 2019: EUROPE’S FUTURE AT STAKE? taking place in Brussels tomorrow to hear what ideas the leaders of European political groups have for next year’s European elections and how they propose to engage with European citizens in light of populism and citizen distrust on the rise, youth unemployment unresolved, and several Eurozone economies still emerging from the crisis.

EURACTIV will also launch its dedicated 2019 EU elections page – be sure to check it out.

Views are the author’s

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