Bulgaria to set up unit to monitor disinformation in media, social networks

A new analytical unit to be up at Bulgaria’s E-government Ministry to monitor the content of media and social networks for targeted disinformation and fake news will not have powers to block content, E-government Minister Bozhidar Bozhanov said during Question Time in Parliament on May 20.

The body would not have regulatory powers and would not take away powers from broadcaster regulator the Council for Electronic Media, Bozhanov said.

“There is no body in the state that is explicitly charged with the policy of protection against hybrid threats, including targeted misinformation,” he said.

“To stop any attempts at misinterpretation, let me point out that we are guided by one basic principle – neither a government nor any large corporation should decide what is true and what is not, nor should it have the power to block something, simply because it has decided to,” Bozhanov said.

He said that the new unit would have solely a monitoring function and would prepare reports for various institutions in their policy areas.

Bozhanov told Parliament that misleading content on certain topics is financed and created in Bulgaria by troll factories that coordinate the distribution of this content on social networks.

“These trolls are often people working from home. They are paid for a comment or a published article. On command, they share this ‘news’ in certain groups, which are indicated by the coordinating troll,” Bozhanov said.

“This in turn leads to an algorithmic increase in the spread of these publications and accordingly it would be shown to more people.”

He said that these trolls reported legitimate voices in society and on social networks, leading to them being blocked.

Earlier this week, Bozhanov paid a two-day visit to Brussels, where he held talks with senior representatives of the European Commission to discuss the fight against disinformation.

“Disinformation and the spread of fake news is an extremely important issue, in which social media also play a major role,” his ministry quoted him as saying in Brussels.

“Therefore, we are very much counting on regulations set out in the (EU’s planned) Digital Services Act to help solve the problem of promoting false content as a result of coordinated action.

“There must be transparency in the algorithms so that every user knows why they are offered the relevant content,” Bozhanov said.

In an interview with Bulgarian National Television on May 20, he said that misinformation was a systemic problem in Bulgaria, as well as other Eastern European countries.

The most probable source of disinformation campaigns was the government in Russia, Bozhanov said.

“It is obvious to anyone who uses social networks that disinformation is spreading in the country.

“Eastern European countries are disproportionately affected by disinformation campaigns, which are likely to have a Kremlin origin,” he said.

Bozhanov said that there were several reasons for the disinformation spreading, including that in the case of languages spoken by fewer people, Facebook was less likely to detect it.

He said that one of the main problems is that Facebook does not provide either individual EU countries nor the European Commission with enough data, such as on fake profiles, to draw conclusions.

Bozhanov said that the Digital Services Act being discussed by the European Commissioners would require social media to provide internal information, and could require confirmation whether certain profiles were real people or trolls.

(Photo: Serkan ER/freeimages.com)

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