Western stakeholders must look for innovative ways to counter the Russian information war, including cyberactivism a new study argues. Moreover, the new EU’s Digital Services Act could unlock databases of the big internet platforms, making the work of cyber activists much more effective.
The so-called “elves armies” – groups of volunteers fighting against pro-Kremlin propaganda – became popular in Baltics where they closely cooperate with state institutions. However, this is not the case for every EU Member state.
“While in the Baltics, elves are often considered heroes and their work is well appreciated by the public, both the narrative and the support is not so sympathetic in other states,” Adéla Klečková, a researcher focusing on cyberactivism and author of the study told EURACTIV.cz.
Such dissonance between the state institutions and “elves” armies limits the ability of state to tackle Russian “trolls” spreading disinformation campaigns. Thus, Klečková advocates for better cooperation of relevant authorities with cyber activists group.
The cyber “elves” movement – founded in 2014 – expanded from Lithuania to 13 Central and Eastern European Countries. In 2021, they counted about 4,000 volunteers. Their ranks include a diverse range of people, including internet enthusiasts, former intelligence officers and retired soldiers.
Facebook is one of their main battlefields as the Russian trolls are using social media websites to disseminate their content, which is often based on anti-EU or anti-NATO rhetoric. “On Facebook, the elves gather data from the public profiles of prominent pro-Kremlin sympathisers or secret troll closed groups,” the study writes.
The EU is also tackling the problem of disinformation with the new Digital Services Act (DSA). Forthcoming legislation will likely oblige internet platforms to remove harmful content from their sites.
The DSA may also affect the activities of the elves. As currently drafted, the act would allow “verified researchers” access to the data held by the big platforms, allowing them first-hand investigation of information flows on social sites.
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 people associated with academic institutions. By contrast, the European Parliament, in its adopted DSA report, wants 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, elves armies are cooperating across the borders, for example by sharing their databases of harmful content.
(Vojtěch Freitag, Aneta Zachová | EURACTIV.cz)