Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine constitutes a litmus test for the EU’s capacity to protect those fleeing the war-torn country. This conflict and the forced displacement it triggered are also at the epicentre of an information war spurred on by false and misleading online claims concerning refugees.
This Issue Paper examines the challenges posed by disinformation about refugees from Ukraine and the steps taken so far to address them. It analyses the audiences targeted by false and misleading messages, considers why online disinformation about refugees is so pervasive and looks at how disinformation narratives have changed since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Despite some positive actions, much remains to be done to boost Europe’s societal resilience against disinformation. Institutional scrutiny at the EU level is focused on foreign disinformation actors. Counter-disinformation efforts mostly follow a ‘debunking approach’, which may not prevent hostile narratives from shaping the political discourse.
Building on the EPC’s previous research on migration-related disinformation, this Issue Paper calls for the adoption of a ‘prebunking’ strategy. This involves forming multiple stakeholders’ partnerships to monitor disinformation more systematically; intervening rapidly against disinformation; anticipating future narratives; and boosting the critical skills of those who are most susceptible to disinformation.
Disinformation on refugees from Ukraine is being used to sow uncertainty and division. In the current context marked by heightening geopolitical insecurity and the cost-of-living crisis, it could lead to resentment towards national governments and refugees and undermine public support for EU reception policies. By adopting a prebunking approach, the Union can promote more evidence-based and balanced discussions, avoid public backlash, and sustain welcoming and ambitious migration and asylum policies.
This Issue Paper is the result of a collaboration between the Foundation for European Progressive Studies, the Friedrich- Ebert-Stiftung, and the European Policy Centre. It is the fourth in a series of publications on disinformation and communication on migration in Europe.