Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has set aside new cash to tackle the growing threat of fake news in eastern Europe, weeks after it emerged Russia had tried to undermine the European elections.
Mr Hunt said the new three-year £18m package would “support journalists working in some of the most repressive societies and step up the attack against fake news”.
According to a recent study from NGO Freedom House, only 10pc of the world’s population currently have access to a free media.
Mr Hunt said, given this, “fake news and disinformation continue to undermine and destabilise societies”.
The foreign secretary was speaking ahead of the Global Conference for Media Freedom in London next week, where delegations from more than 100 countries and 60 ministers will gather to discuss the barriers to a free press.
Mr Hunt said his “aim for this conference is to work with my counterparts to agree a way to protect media freedom and impose a cost on those who abuse it”.
News of the latest cash allocation by Mr Hunt, in his role as foreign secretary, comes weeks after he took aim at Russia in his announcements on how he would spend money if he was chosen as prime minister.
Mr Hunt had said he would spend an extra £15bn on defence to give Britain a “leading global role in deterring aggressive Russian activity on Europe’s shores”.
The £18m package announced today, being paid out from the Government’s Conflict, Stability and Security fund, is part of a wider £100m, five-year commitment to counter disinformation in eastern Europe and central Asia, amid growing concern fake news is being used to influence political decisions and disrupt societies.
According to the European Commission’s initial report into the EU elections, bots and fake accounts traced to Russia had spread false information in the run-up to the votes in an effort to radicalise debates.
“There are plenty of reports of disinformation, from both bots and fake accounts, and that was across a number of member states: Poland, Spain, Latvia, France, the United Kingdom to name a few,” EU security commissioner Julian King had said.
He said the elections had been far from a “disinformation-free zone”.
This is not the first time Russian-linked social media accounts have been accused of manipulating discussions, and last year Whitehall analysis found Kremlin-operated, pro-Kremlin or anti-Western accounts had stepped up efforts to spread fake news in the UK in the wake of the Salisbury poisoning.
The accounts had been claiming that Russia had not been the source of the Novichok used in the Salisbury attack – something that the country had been formally accused of by the UK Government.
In April 2018, there was a 4,000pc increase in posts from automated Twitter and other social media accounts linked to Moscow.
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