European Union External Action

Questions and Answers about the East StratCom Task Force

28/04/2021 - 01:00
News

Оперативная рабочая группа по стратегическим коммуникациям (East StratCom Task Force): вопросы и ответы

Why and when was the East StratCom Task Force created?

The Task Force was set up to address Russia's ongoing disinformation campaigns. In March 2015, the European Council tasked the High Representative in cooperation with EU institutions and Member States to submit an action plan on strategic communication.

European Council conclusions, 19 and 20 March 2015

The Task Force is part of the Strategic Communications and Information Analysis Division (AFFGEN.7) of the European External Action Service. The Division also includes the Western Balkans Task Force, the Task Force South and a horizontal team with a focus on emerging threats, data analysis, policy development and international cooperation, including the EU’s Rapid Alert System on Disinformation.

Several key policy documents outline the EU’s approach to counter disinformation:

Action Plan against Disinformation (2018)

Communication on tackling on-line disinformation, COM(2018) 236

European Democracy Action Plan (2020)

See further updates on the work of EU institutions to tackle disinformation:

European External Action Service

European Commission

European Parliament

Tackling Coronavirus Disinformation

What are the EU's objectives concerning strategic communications in its Eastern neighbourhood?

Strategic communication is one of the EU’s long-term policy objectives in the Eastern neighbourhood.

Three main objectives apply to all our activities:

  • Effective communication and promotion of EU policies towards the Eastern Neighbourhood
  • Strengthening the overall media environment in the Eastern Neighbourhood and in the EU Member States, including support for media freedom and strengthening independent media
  • Improved EU capacity to forecast, address and respond to disinformation activities by external actors

What does the East StratCom Task Force do?

The Task Force develops communication products and campaigns designed to better explain EU values, interests and policies in the Eastern Partnership countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine). It works closely with other EU institutions and with EU Delegations in the Eastern Partnership countries, Central Asia and the Russian Federation.

The Task Force supports wider EU efforts aimed at strengthening the media environment in the Eastern Partnership countries and beyond, in close collaboration with EU institutions, member states and civil society actors.

The Task Force reports on and analyses disinformation trends, explains and exposes disinformation narratives, and raises awareness of the negative impact of disinformation that originates in pro-Kremlin sources and is disseminated in the Eastern neighbourhood’s information space and beyond.

What is the composition of the team?

As of March 2021, the team has sixteen full-time staff recruited by EU institutions or seconded by the EU Member States. Team members have a variety of professional backgrounds in communications, journalism and social sciences and speak some of the languages of EU’s neighbours, including Russian.

What has the Task Force achieved regarding communication in the Eastern Neighbourhood?

Since the creation of the Task Force, the EU Delegations’ approach to communication in the Eastern Partnership countries has changed profoundly. The Task Force has developed bespoke activities and actions in each partner country aimed at improving the EU’s overall strategic approach to communications.

Working closely with EU Delegations and other stakeholders, the Task Force has developed communication campaigns explaining complex policy issues and illustrating how citizens in Eastern Partnership countries benefit directly from the EU’s financial and technical support to democratic and market reforms. It has improved and professionalised communication standards.

According to a survey in February-March 2020, the European Union was ranked as the most trusted international institution and was the only international institution trusted by a majority (60%) of citizens in the Eastern Partnership countries. In addition to opinion polls locally commissioned by EU Delegations, since 2016 annual opinion surveys are conducted by DG NEAR's EU Neighbours East project.

How does the Task Force strengthen the media environment in the Eastern Neighbourhood?

The East StratCom Task Force (ESTF) helps to ensure appropriate and needs-calibrated support to independent media in the Eastern Partnership countries, in order to foster greater media pluralism in the region and improve citizens' access to quality information.

ESTF supported the European Commission (DG NEAR) in developing a new €11-million regional programme for independent media in Eastern Partnership countries (EU4independentmedia) covering the 2020-2023 period and helped develop the Commission’s bilateral media support programmes.

ESTF is in regular contact and closely coordinates with the international media donor community to ensure effective support of independent media in the Eastern Partnership countries.

How does the team define disinformation?

We use the definition from the Action Plan against Disinformation: “Disinformation is understood as verifiably false or misleading information that is created, presented and disseminated for economic gain or to intentionally deceive the public, and may cause public harm. Public harm includes threats to democratic processes as well as to public goods such as Union citizens' health, environment or security. Disinformation does not include inadvertent errors, satire and parody, or clearly identified partisan news and commentary.”

Further refined definitions of misinformation, disinformation, information influence operations and foreign interference are provided in the European Democracy Action Plan.

Does the team have a budget to address disinformation?

The Task Force draws on existing resources within the EU institutions and the Member States, including staff from institutions and seconded national experts from Member States. The Task Force works within the existing budget for EU’s strategic communications. In 2018, the Task Force was granted €1.1 million from the European Parliament’s Preparatory Action for its work to address pro-Kremlin disinformation. In 2019, this budget increased to €3 million and in 2020 to €4 million. For 2021, the overall budget devoted for the EEAS Strategic Communications and Information Analysis Division to address disinformation and manipulative interference and strategic communications capabilities will equal €11.1 million.

The budget ensures professional media monitoring, disinformation and data analysis, design and implementation of communications campaigns, development and translations of disinformation awareness-raising content into multiple EU and EU neighbours’ languages, also developing trainings and simulations on how to respond to disinformation. The objective is to gain a more comprehensive, up-to-date and in-depth picture of foreign disinformation campaigns, to reach out with awareness campaigns to new audiences and to increase the EU’s and its neighbours’ resilience to disinformation.

How do we spend the available budget?

The Task Force works with EEAS contractors to procure media monitoring, qualitative and quantitative analysis with a focus, but not exclusively, on pro-Kremlin sources, which are controlled and financed by the Russian state.

The budget allows the Strategic Communications Task Forces and Information Analysis Division, including its three Task Forces (East Stratcom Task Force, the Western Balkans Task Force and Task Force South) to strengthen the capacity to analyse and respond to disinformation campaigns, including pro-Kremlin disinformation. It supports raising awareness of disinformation campaigns and emerging threats, the monitoring and exposure of disinformation campaigns targeting the EU and its neighbours and taking a data-driven approach to the analysis and understanding of the challenge. It is used to deliver better analysis and translation and dissemination of products into local and EU languages, and for the exchange of information and best practice with Member States and international partners like G7 and NATO via the EU’s Rapid Alert System on Disinformation.

It also supports the EUvsDisinfo campaign, with the number of catalogued and exposed pro-Kremlin disinformation cases on the EUvsDisinfo.eu portal reaching more than 11,000 in the spring of 2021, including more than 800 examples on COVID-19 disinformation. In 2020, the EUvsDisinfo website had over 1.25 million visitors, an increase of more than 200% compared to 2019, with 2.4 million page views. EUvsDisinfo content is now translated into French, German, Spanish and Italian, in addition to being available in English and Russian.

The Strategic Communications and Information Analysis Division also responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying infodemic, using these capabilities to monitor, analyse and expose harmful narratives. The EEAS published five EEAS Special Reports on COVID-19 Disinformation and conducted awareness campaigns on social media.

Does the team cooperate with other international organisations tackling disinformation?

The Task Force works closely with the EU institutions, EU Delegations, Member States, and a wide range of other partners, both governmental and non-governmental, within the EU, in the Eastern Neighbourhood, and beyond. The aim of this cooperation is to share best practices in the field of strategic communications, to ensure support for independent media in the region and counter disinformation.

The Rapid Alert System on Disinformation (RAS) provides a platform for the EEAS to exchange information with other EU institutions, EU Member States, as well as a platform for cooperation with international partners, like the G7 Rapid Response Mechanism and NATO.

Where can I find the Task Force's products related to disinformation?

You can find and search the full record of the Task Force's work on disinformation on its website, www.EUvsDisinfo.eu. You can follow us on Twitter @EUvsDisinfo and on our Facebook account "EU vs Disinformation".

The Task Force’s flagship product on disinformation is the weekly Disinformation Review. It provides valuable data for analysts, journalists and officials interested in this issue. The Disinformation Review also brings the latest news and analyses of pro-Kremlin disinformation. To receive the review each week in English by email, please sign up here. Please subscribe here to receive the Russian-language version.

Does the Disinformation Review represent an official EU position?

The Review exposes the latest disinformation narratives based on the results of selective media monitoring and therefore cannot be considered an official EU position.

Does the team engage in counter-propaganda or disinformation?

No - the team's main task is to explain and promote the European Union's policies in the Eastern Neighbourhood, to identify and expose disinformation, and to strengthen the media environment in the region. 

Does the team engage with social media platforms to encourage removal of disinformation?

The team does not cooperate with social media platforms on removal of content. However, the searchable database of www.EUvsDisinfo.eu, which compiles more than 11,000 examples of pro-Kremlin disinformation, is publicly accessible.

Does the Task Force target anti-EU opinions and "propagandists"?

The Task Force does not target opinions and does not seek to blacklist anyone. It checks facts and identifies disinformation messages coming from Russian state controlled and financed media across the EU languages, in the Eastern Partnership countries, and in Arabic. It focuses on the disinformation message, not the messenger.

Have the EU member states supported the work of the Task Force?

EU Member States continue to make significant contributions to the Task Force in terms of seconded staff. The April 2018 Foreign Affairs Council "commended the work conducted by East StratComm Task Force" in the context of strengthening the resilience of the EU and its neighbours against Russian threats, including hybrid threats.

The Action Plan against Disinformation, endorsed by the European Council in December 2018, recognises the work of the Task Force in cataloguing, analysing and putting the spotlight on thousands of examples of disinformation by the Russian Federation, and in raising awareness of the tools, techniques and motives behind disinformation campaigns. The Action Plan re-endorsed ESTF’s initial 2015 mandate.

In December 2019, the General Secretariat of the Council underlined that “the work of the EEAS Strategic Communication Division and in particular the three Task Forces (East, Western Balkans, South) needs to be supported with sufficient resources”, and that “all three Task Forces should be able to continuously detect, analyse and challenge disinformation activities of foreign State actors and external non-state actors”.

What should I do if I spotted a mistake in the Task Force's publications or campaigns?

You can contact the Task Force via its website or send an email. We will do our utmost to respond to you and correct any inaccuracies.

Media enquiries:

For all media enquiries, please contact the EEAS spokespersons. Contact details for the EEAS press team.

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