‘Hybrid threat’ centre to be built in Finland to counter fake news

A centre to combat disinformation and fake news is to be built in Finland, following an agreement between eight European countries, the US, and NATO. The centre, which will be named the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, will serve as a platform to pool resources and expertise between the countries involved.

In recent years, the Nordic and Baltic countries have been increasingly concerned over what have been described as ‘hybrid threats’ -  disinformation campaigns and systematic spreading of fake news, including by the Russian government.

In October 2015, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö warned of the “information warfare” that was already affecting Finns, and last year, the EU and NATO pledged at a summit in Warsaw to increase cooperation in the areas of cyber defence and countering hybrid threats.

Finland, the UK, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Sweden and the US signed a memorandum with NATO agreeing to establish the centre. It will be based in Helsinki, and will begin its work later this year.

Timo Soini, the Finnish foreign minister, said that Finland had become a target for hybrid threats through disinformation campaigns and malicious cyber activities. He added that countering hybrid threats was a European priority, and that the EU and NATO will face “the challenge of hybrid threats hand in hand”.

The centre is being supported by the Finnish government, with an initial budget of €1.5 million, and will be staffed by a team of experts and researchers from the centre’s founding countries.

The head of NATO’s civil preparedness unit, Lorenz Meyer-Minnemann, said that the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats would serve as a platform for the EU and NATO to pool resources and share their expertise.

“Working together is essential in building resilience to hybrid threats,” he commented.

The centre is expected to collaborate closely with NATO’s existing cyber defence centre in Estonia, and its strategic communications centre in Latvia.

The spread of fake news through social media – which some commentators suggest contributed towards the election of US President Donald Trump last year – has prompted more research focusing on how we use, understand and consume social media. A study from Penn State University and King’s College London, for instance, recently reported that social media users often adopt different personas, or ‘(social) hats’ unique to each different social network.

E&T looks at the seductive attraction of fake news in the latest issue.

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