Cross-border disinformation campaigns have the potential to significantly sway public opinion, Source: Depositphotos

Disinformation goes global: The challenge of cross-border manipulation

Disinformation goes global: The challenge of cross-border manipulation

From Russia to France, Turkey, and Spain: The adaptable nature of fake news

The spread of false content across borders has become a growing problem that can cause significant harm. Disinformation campaigns often reuse and adapt content to make it more persuasive for specific audiences, leading to the spread of emotionally triggering and harmful disinformation. Let’s explore that phenomenon, known as cross-border disinformation, and the adaptable nature of false content.

One example of cross-border disinformation is the dissemination of a video of a man assaulting nurses in a Russian hospital. Far-right Facebook pages in France, Spain, and Turkey, however, adapted that content to fit their local contexts, presenting the video as if a migrant was assaulting hospital staff in France, as if a Muslim was doing it in Spain, and as if it was a Syrian in Turkey.

Or how about the claim that a hot water drink made with lemon can cure COVID-19? The rumour started in Israel with the claim that it was a doctor’s advice. Travelling abroad the disinfo changed face accordingly. In China, the drink was presented as a traditional remedy that could save lives, while in Bulgaria, it was spread as an inheritance from Baba Vanga, a well-known Bulgarian mystic and herbalist. However, Associated Press research, unsurprisingly, has shown that the drink is not a cure for the virus.

These examples show us something about the way disinformation works and evolves. Much like a marketing campaign, it needs to fit the local context in order to resonate. 

Adaptive by Nature

It is often cheaper for disinformation campaigns to reuse and adapt existing content that has already proven to be effective than to create new content from scratch in each country. Disinformation that is emotionally persuasive can lead to changes in public opinion and support for specific political powers.

To combat cross-border disinformation, individuals must be critical of the information they find online, fact-check sources (though this can be time-consuming) and be aware of the potential for false content to spread across borders. Governments and social media platforms can also take measures to identify and remove false content and promote media literacy and critical thinking skills.

Reused and adaptive content is a common feature of cross-border disinformation. Disinformation can take the form of especially convincing stories, appealing to traditions, fears of new technologies, and more. As this content travels around the world, it is often adapted to make it more persuasive for specific audiences. While the reuse of content is often clear, the effects of adaptation and reuse on scale are not as obvious.

Collaborative efforts to withstand this

The effects of cross-border disinformation can be significant. For instance, it can serve to inflame hate speech and discriminatory practices and lead to changes in public opinion. It is important for individuals, governments, and social media platforms to work together to combat disinformation and promote media literacy. By doing so, they can help to ensure that the spread of false information does not have negative consequences.

In addition to the measures mentioned earlier, some countries and organizations have taken specific steps to combat cross-border disinformation. For instance, the EU-sponsored Disinfo Review website provides regular updates on disinformation campaigns targeting the bloc, while the French government has set up a task force to combat disinformation during election periods.

If you're looking to fact-check information online, there are various search tools at your disposal. Google Fact Check Explorer has the largest collection of debunked fake news. Another solution is the Database of Known Faces, which contains tens of thousands of items of debunked content. Fact-checkers and journalists use this database to easily double-check whether a new image, video, or claim has already been verified, by whom, when, and how. The platform is still under development by the AI company Ontotext as part of the EU-funded project,

The InVID browser extension has been designed as a verification "Swiss army knife of sorts" to help journalists, fact-checkers, and human rights defenders save time and be more efficient in their fact-checking and debunking tasks on social networks, especially when verifying videos and images. This extension has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 program.

In light of these tools and strategies, it is clear that combating cross-border disinformation needs to be a multifaceted effort. Ultimately, addressing the issue requires collaboration between individuals, governments, and social media platforms to promote media literacy and prevent the spread of false content.

The adaptable nature of false content and the reuse of emotionally persuasive material can have harmful consequences. However, by working together, we can help to ensure the integrity of online information and prevent the spread of false content.

This article is part of Read Twice – an EU-funded project, coordinated by Euro Advance Association that targets young people and aims to counter disinformation and fake news by enhancing their skills to assess critically information, identify vicious and harmful media content and distinguish between facts and opinions, thus improving their media literacy competences.

The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of its author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the European Union nor of TheMayor.EU



Growing City


Smart City


Green City


Social City


New European Bauhaus




ECP 2021 Winner TheMayorEU