One of the eight European centers for research of disinformation will be established in Prague. The aim is to create an index that will allow a long-term study of the impact of misinformation on the Czech population and the media. The project entitled Central European Digital Media Observatory will be led by experts from Prague’s Charles University and the Czech Technical University.
The European Digital Media Observatory will focus on a number of goals, such as creating tools for tracking the routes through which disinformation spreads on the Internet and social networks or the identification of so-called deep fakes as well as linking fact-checking initiatives across Europe.
There will be a total of eight centers. And one of them, the Central European “branch”, will be based in Prague. The Czech capital succeeded in the selection of the European Commission.
The project was born in Florence, Italy, under the auspices of the local European University Institute, an international institution for postgraduate studies in the social sciences founded by European countries. Since then, the centers have been established in Athens, Greece, or Aarhus, Denmark.
It will run under the baton of experts from Charles University and the Czech Technical University. They will be joined, for example, by people from the Demagog Association, which focuses on verifying political statements.
“I am proud that we succeeded in the competition and with more than thirty applications as the third of eight. For us, it is an award for the long-term connection of excellent social research at the Faculty of Social Sciences with technological fields,” said Tomáš Zima, Rector of Charles University.
A key tool? Artificial Intelligence
The use of artificial intelligence is key throughout the project. It is intended to replace manpower and enable widespread verification of content published on the Internet. It should also be able to deal with different languages with the help of programs that translate data into English in real-time.
“This is the first step in our journey to become a Europe-wide artificial intelligence center that will protect people, their security, and their rights,” said Vojtěch Petráček, rector of Czech Technical University in Prague, which will provide artificial intelligence tools. Experts from the faculty of social sciences of Charles University will then help with the social science scope of the project.
Among other things, a unique CEDMO index should be created within the institute, which will examine the impact of misinformation on the Czech population and the media over the long-term. In addition to European money, money from the “coronavirus” National Recovery Plan will also be used to fund the project.
The use of artificial intelligence in the detection of misinformation is nothing new, even in the Czech space. Rather, the range is innovative. In the Czech space, it is used, for example, by the company Semantic Visions. It analyzes online news content, automatically detects, at the request of companies, unknown events that have the character of threats. But they have a by-product: detection of misinformation and hostile propaganda.
In addition, there are many student associations, for example, which spread awareness about the topic. The Center for Terrorism and Hybrid Threats at the Ministry of the Interior also analyzes misinformation. And recently, the government approved the first National Strategy for Combating Hybrid Action, which is one of the first similar documents in Europe.
Disinformation is a topic of recent years, but at the same time, Czechia, as one of the countries of the former Eastern bloc, is exposed to an increased amount of intentionally false content.
“The Czech Republic is in the second group of countries most at risk of Russian misinformation, behind Ukraine and the Baltic countries. And far behind us are countries like Germany or France,“ said Marcela Svobodová from Semantic Visions.
This phenomenon is confirmed by numbers. According to a current study by the Endowment Fund for Independent Journalism (NFNZ), created in collaboration with the research agency Nielsen Admosphere, 66 percent of Internet users had experience with fake news last fall, up 11 percent year-on-year.
And the situation was exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis or the Vrbětice case, which became grateful topics of disinformation campaigns. “If we know how disinformation works, who and with what motivation spreads it, it allows us to react to it and defend ourselves. This was seen with the coronavirus vaccine. In countries where they did not underestimate it, they did not give room for disinformation to have such an influence,“ explained political scientist and disinformation expert Miloš Gregor from the Faculty of Social Studies at Masaryk University.
Title image: A screenshot of a tweet posted by the Center Against Terrorism and Hybrid Threats shows an example of what the unit claims was an attempt to spread a disinformation in Prague, Czech Republic, Friday, Jan. 13, 2017. A new Czech center set up to combat fake news is getting ready for disinformation campaigns ahead of elections despite a fierce opposition from the country’s president. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)