War on Propaganda or PRopaganda War? : A case study of fact-checking and (counter)propaganda in the EEAS project EUvsDisinfo
Abstract: Following the events that saw Russia operating in the Ukrainian information space as well as on the ground, concern for hybrid threats and targeted propaganda campaigns has grown in the world and especially in Europe. Allegations of foreign involvement in electoral campaigns within liberal democracies have drawn even more attention to the matter and have hastened plans of action to fight hybrid threats in the European Union and the Eastern Partnership. In theregion, one of the priorities at all levels of governance is to counteract foreign-sourced propaganda campaigns that make use of disinformation. These disinformation-fighting strategies include the strategical use of fact-checking practices. Fact-checkingas a branch of journalism, though, has great potential for being weaponised and used as a vehicle for institutional propaganda, especially when absorbed within the domain of strategic communication. This research offers a case study of EUvsDisinfo, the fact-checking project started by the European External Action Service, to explore its weaknesses as a fact-checking organisation and deconstruct its activity in terms of propaganda analysis. The research employs mixed qualitative methods to show how the project falls short of its ideal role and its function as a fact-checker. Without any value judgement, EUvsDisinfo is exposed as a potential platform for the dissemination of hegemonic narratives or (counter)propaganda in the West and in particular in the European Union. The case study is meant to be a way of developing research on the possible existence of institutional (counter)propaganda in liberal democracies, which is heavily underresearched in present times.
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