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Our team was able to pull together existing insights to calculate a related estimate: Europeans collectively interact with fake news well over 29 billion times a year. Likewise, our team has estimated that fake news may be responsible for costing Europe $7.956 billion, a figure that will surely continue rising as the EU continues to work to fight against disinformation. A deep dive of these findings along with a list of related studies, surveys and educational resources has been presented below.

Statistics: Misinformation in Europe

  • Fake News Items Per Year: The number of fake news items in Europe per year does not appear to be directly available. One academic paper on the topic notes that, in general, information about how the scale of misinformation is evolving remains limited. Insights published by the Nieman Foundation at Harvard seconds this sentiment. Further explanation about this missing information has been provided in the Research Strategy section below.
  • 75% of Europeans surveyed said they encounter a fake news item once per week. There are around 748 million people in Europe; 75% of the population equates to 561 million. As there are 52 weeks in a year, this would mean that Europeans are having at least 29.172 billion fake news interactions a year, and this number would logically be even higher considering the people who encounter fake news items more than once per week. (Calculation: 561 million people x 52 weeks = 29.172 billion).
  • 37% of Europeans surveyed said they encounter a fake news item every day.
  • According to research conducted by Reuters, “the first research into false news sites in Europe reveals that fake news sites in France and Italy have a far more limited reach than is often assumed. Engagement with these websites is also very low compared to most established news outlets. A few sites draw many interactions on Facebook, but most do not.”
  • “An economic study by Tel Aviv, Israel-based cybersecurity firm CHEQ and the University of Baltimore have revealed that fake news is costing the global economy $78 billion each year.” As Europe holds a 10.2% share of the global population, fake news may be responsible for costing Europe $7.956 billion, if the damage represents a comparable share. (Calculation: 10.2% of $78 billion = $7.956 billion).
  • Britain has spent $18 million on a fake news fund for Eastern Europe, while the EU set up a $5 million rapid alert system to help EU members spot disinformation campaigns.
  • According to the EU, disinformation poses a threat to democracy and efficient governance. The EU cites data published by MIT, noting: “There is empirical evidence that false news are spreading significantly “faster, deeper, and more broadly” than the true ones. An MIT study found that the top 1% of false news cascades diffused to 1,000 – 100,000 people, whereas the true ones rarely reached more than 1,000 people.”

Studies and Surveys: How Europeans Feel About Misinformation

1. Report: Fake News and Disinformation Online

  • A link to this report can be found here.
  • Summary: This is a survey requested by the EU government, published in February 2018. A survey is designed to “explore EU citizens’ awareness of and attitudes towards the existence of fake news and disinformation online.” It analyzed responses from over 26,575 people.

2. Smart eDemocracy Against Fake News: Survey On Disinformation and Fake News

  • A link to this report can be found here.
  • Summary: This survey was co-funded by the Europe for Citizens Programme of the European Union. It was published in April 2019. The survey collected “national realities, approaches and practical applications” in order to assess the relevance of disinformation and fake news in partnering countries of the project.

3. The Political Effects of Migration-Related Fake News, Disinformation and Conspiracy Theories in Europe

  • A link to this report can be found here.
  • Summary: This study was published in 2017 by Political Capital, a policy research and consulting institute. This study analyzes “the public discourse about international migration,” which the study notes as a “globally relevant topic, the discussion of which is characterized by the use of fake news, disinformation and conspiracy theories all over the world.”

4. Navigating the ‘Infodemic’: How People in Six Countries Access and Rate News and Information About Coronavirus

  • A link to this report can be found here.
  • Summary: This report was published in April 2020 by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in partnership with the Oxford Martin School. This survey collected responses from people across six countries, including three European countries (Germany, Spain, and the UK). The survey analyzed how people accessed news about COVID-19, how they rated the trustworthiness of the news and platforms, and how much misinformation they reported encountering.

5. Investigating Italian Disinformation Spreading On Twitter in the Context of 2019 European Elections

  • A link to this report can be found here.
  • Summary: This study was published in 2020 and analyzes Italian disinformation spread leading up to the 2019 elections in Europe. This research focuses on finding out the reach of disinformation circulated on Twitter leading up to the European Parliament elections, how active and strong the community of disinformation sharers is, what the themes of the disinformation were, how much people were influenced by certain topics, which spreaders of information were most influential, and whether disinformation is shared in a coordinated manner.

Educational Resources: Misinformation in Europe and How to Get Involved

1. European Commission – Fighting Disinformation Portal

  • A link to this resource can be found here.
  • Summary: This resource features official information for EU citizens regarding disinformation during COVID-19. It includes information on how to determine fact from fiction, bots, how to identify a conspiracy theory, online scams, and provides links to additional information.

2. Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) – Reports on Fake News

  • A link to this resource can be found here.
  • Summary: The CISIS has published numerous reports and articles regarding fake news, some of which focus on Europe specifically, for example, here and here. These reports examine current European issues surrounding fake news and analyzes approaches to combating it.

3. European Commission – Tackling Online Disinformation Policy Portal

  • A link to this resource can be found here.
  • Summary: This portal provides a range of educational information and additional links and resources that discuss ways to fight disinformation. The main page reads as follows: “Fighting disinformation in the era of social media and online platforms has to be a coordinated effort involving all relevant actors, from institutions to social platforms, from news media to single users.”

4. IE Law School – Articles on Disinformation in Europe

  • A link to this resource can be found here.
  • Summary: IE Law School has published at least two articles that discuss disinformation solutions and initiatives in Europe. These articles can be found here and here. The first article, written by Atty. Pedro Peña, it talks about what various EU governments are doing to legislate against fake news.

5. Chatam House at The Royal Institute of International Affairs – Research Paper on EU-US Cooperation On Tackling Disinformation

  • A link to this resource can be found here.
  • Summary: This paper was published in 2019 and “maps legislative, institutional and technological actions to counter disinformation taken by governments, civil society and digital intermediaries (social media, search engines and app platforms) both in the US and the EU […] and investigates how international efforts can inform and empower future EU-US cooperation.”

Additional Information – EUvsDiSiNFO

  • This web portal has a wide range of information regarding disinformation in the EU. This page of the site has a large number of links to relevant resources that provide in depth information about this topic.
  • According to the website, “EUvsDisinfo is the flagship project of the European External Action Service’s East StratCom Task Force. It was established in 2015 to better forecast, address, and respond to the Russian Federation’s ongoing disinformation campaigns affecting the European Union, its Member States, and countries in the shared neighborhood.”
  • It should be noted that the credibility of this site could not be immediately verified.

Research Strategy

The number of fake news items in Europe per year does not appear to be directly available. One academic paper on the topic notes that, in general, information about how the scale of misinformation is evolving remains limited. Insights published by the Nieman Foundation at Harvard seconds this. Neither could this data be triangulated by our team as there is no relevant data available to do so. For example, a percentage of total news articles that are fake could not be found. It appears that this data is likely lacking within the public domain due to the difficulty of pinning down an accurate number. What appears to be a more widely used metric of fake news prevalence is the number of engagements with fake news that consumers report within a given time. For similar reasons, the estimated damage of fake news in Europe is not publicly available. In this case, our team was able to make a loose triangulation based on a global figure compared to population size, which has been presented in the findings above. Overall, after researching across government websites, market reports, industry reports, academic reports, insights published by leading research and consulting firms such as Reuters, and insights published by trusted media sources, there appears to be very little publicly available information showing quantitative data about the amount and impact of fake news in Europe and this appears to be due to the fact that this information is difficult to measure and research is still ongoing. The majority of publicly available resources have been re-reporting the same information.
Locating a percentage of news that is fake in general proved to be difficult due to the nuances involved in pinning this number down. An in-depth study about fake news globally notes the following in regard to estimating the percentage of fake news: 1) “The Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network, funded by federal grants, reviewed more than 30,000 free online resources on climate change and found only 700 articles were broadly accurate, on the theme of climate change.” 2) “A Princeton-led study of fake news consumption during the 2016 US campaign, found that false articles made up 2.6 percent of all hard-news articles late in the 2016 campaign.” 3) “In France, Oxford University researchers found up to a quarter of the political links shared on one social network ahead of the 2017 French presidential elections were based on misinformation.” This suggests that the prevalence of fake news may vary by topic and country, and that it can range from a small percentage to a very large percentage.
Additionally, during this research, we came across data discussing the prevalence of fake news on social media. These statistics were not included as this data largely discussed specific fake news posts that were studied and the level of engagement taking place on the posts, were not specific to Europe, and didn’t point to anything that would help in understanding how many fake news items there are in Europe.
Overall, the vast majority of publicly available information about fake news in Europe is qualitative and does not speak to the amount of fake news articles or items.
In looking for studies and surveys in regard to how Europeans feel about misinformation (perceptions/impact/experiences) it should be noted that available reports were found to be rather limited. Although there have been a couple of large-scale surveys conducted, the majority of academic information related to disinformation in Europe is focused on things like approaches to combating it, government responses, etc. rather than public opinion. However, we have located five studies and surveys that focus more so on public opinion. These have been included in the findings above.

TDM

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