Twenty-eight students and young professionals won strong praise on 24 September from local leaders from the European Union and Eastern Partnership countries for proposals intended to counter disinformation, using scenarios of election fraud and false claims about diseases and secret deals to develop their ideas.
Their suggestions, which they developed together with Dutch experts at a workshop organised by Kyiv City Council and the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), will serve as input for a set of recommendations that the CoR is drawing up on ways that local governments can contribute to European efforts to tackle online disinformation.
The winning team developed a plan intended to counteract false claims of a disease in the country of Corleapia through strong public-service communications, free emergency services, and a media-literacy drive. Other groups also emphasised the importance of a rapid scaling up of fact-based communications, highlighting independent research, and improving understanding of disinformation techniques. The groups included members from the six Eastern Partnership countries: Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.
Each of the groups then presented their ideas at a meeting of the Conference of the Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership (CORLEAP), which brings together CoR members and politicians from the six Eastern Partnership countries. CORLEAP members then selected the proposal they felt would be most effective with their constituents.
Markku Markkula (FI/EPP), First Vice-President of the, said the exercise could serve as a model for youth-focused events in the future.
The workshop was developed by Ruurd Oosterwoud and Ijsbrand Terpstra from the Platform for Critical News Consumers (DROG). Participants at the event received preparatory material two weeks beforehand.
In recommendations sent in recent years to the EU's decision-making institutions, CORLEAP's members have underscored that local governments in the region need to collaborate more closely with civil society, and that EU support would be welcome. CORLEAP's members have particularly emphasised the need to work with young people, helping them to develop their skills, gain an education, and to meet peers from EU and neighbouring countries. They embraced the idea of a youth event on disinformation as a means to increase their engagement in social and political issues at local and regional level while at the same time increasing media literacy.
The youth workshop in Kyiv also served to raise awareness of the power of disinformation among local and regional politicians.
The CoR is due to adopt its opinion on "Tackling online disinformation: a European Approach" in February. The rapporteur is Olgierd Geblewicz (PL/EPP), president of the West Pomerania region. A 2017 opinion by the CoR – entitled "A strategic approach to resilience in the EU's external action", drafted by Marcin Ociepa (PL/ECR), leader of Opole City Council – said that it is "imperative" to involve local and regional authorities in information policy on risks, particularly authorities in the EU's border regions.