Has Russian disinformation caused Europe’s lurch to the right?

While the outcome of the 2024 election is yet to be finalised, results at the time of writing show that Eurosceptic conservatives are on course to win an extra 14 seats (taking them to 83), while right-wing nationalists will gain nine seats (to 58). Overall, the right, including centre-right politicians of the European People’s Party grouping, has done well, largely at the expense of the liberal and green party groupings. With just five nations out of 27, including Italy and Estonia, remaining to publish their final results, the overall picture is unlikely to change dramatically.

The move to the far right is evident across Europe. France, which elects 81 members to the European Parliament (EP), was perhaps where this was most evident. Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party is projected to receive around 31-32% of the vote, against President Macron’s centrist party, which is estimated to reach around 15% of the vote. Macron was so concerned about his party’s poor showing that he has called an election in the country. Belgium’s prime minister also handed in his resignation after the nationalist New Flemish Alliance emerged as the big winner after regional, national and European Parliament elections were held in the country on Super Sunday.

In Germany, Eurosceptic parties are projected to secure over 16% of the EP vote. The AfD tripled its support from voters under 24 from 5% in 2019 to 16% and gains six seats to reach 15. The Greens lost nine seats from 21 last time around. Austria’s far-right Freedom Party gained nearly 26% of the vote, gaining three seats, while in the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’s anti-immigration Party for Freedom gained six seats with 17% of the vote. A similar story played out in Poland, Spain, Greece, Bulgaria and Croatia.

But what is driving Europe’s veer to the right?

There is some evidence that the success of the far right comes from millennial and Gen Z voters shifting towards these parties. A third of French voters under 34 and 22% of young German voters favour their country’s far right, while in the Netherlands, the Party for Freedom has become the largest party among under-34s.

Young Europeans, mainly those aged 18-29, overwhelmingly rely on social media for daily news consumption. In Italy and Denmark, nearly three-quarters of young adults use social media for news daily (74% and 75%). A recent German youth study found that 57% of youth prefer social media for news and political updates.

There is growing concern that external actors, particularly from Russia, may have influenced the elections.

Media reports reveal that EU leaders were so concerned about foreign interference in the elections that they set up rapid alert teams to manage any serious incidents. Officials told the Guardian that disinformation has reached “tsunami levels.”

The evidence points to Russia.

Last December, France’s VIGINUM group, which is tasked with protecting France and its interests against foreign digital interference, published a report revealing a network of nearly 200 websites with addresses of the form pravda-xx.com or xx.news-pravda.com, where xx is the country identifier.

The sites, which generate little new content themselves, instead amplify existing pro-Russian content from state sources and social media, including posts from military blogger Mikhail Zvinchuk. Pro-Russian content relating to the Ukraine war is a particular favourite.

Thirty-four fact-checking organisations in Europe, showed that the Pravda network had spread to at least 19 EU countries. Fact-checking organisation Greece Fact Check, in cooperation with Pagella Politica and Facta news, has since noticed that the Pravda network has been attempting to convey large amounts of disinformation and pro-Russia propaganda to sway EU public opinion.

The organisation said that “minor pro-Russian politicians who run for the elections are quoted by state media such as Ria and then further amplified by the Pravda network, in what seems an attempt to magnify their relevance”.

A report by EDMO on EU-related disinformation ahead of the elections found that it was at its highest ever level in May 2024. Ministers for European affairs from France, Germany, and Poland cautioned about efforts to manipulate information and mislead voters. Across the EU, authorities observed a resurgence in coordinated operations spreading anti-EU and Ukraine narratives through fake news websites and on social media platforms Facebook and X.

Among the false stories that emerged and covered were reports that EU President Ursula Von der Leyen had links to Nazism and had been arrested in the European Parliament.

In Germany, there were stories circulating that the country’s vote was being manipulated, ballot papers with holes or corners cut were invalid and that anyone voting for the far-right party AfD would follow stricter rules. Other stories attempted to trick voters into multiple voting or signing their ballot papers, practices that would invalidate their votes.

The report also noted that around 4% of such disinformation articles have been created using AI tools.

The tsunami of disinformation looks unlikely to fade away any time soon. The Guardian says that the EU’s rapid alert teams have been asked to continue their work for weeks after the election.

A senior official told the paper, “The expectation is that it is around election day that we will see this interruption of narratives questioning the legitimacy of the European elections, and in the weeks around it.”

2024, the year that four billion go the polls

Happy New Year – I hope…

Entering a new year typically encourages us to reflect on the past 12 months and consider the impact of what is likely to happen in the next 12. Depressingly, 2023 was yet another year marked by authoritarians clamping down on freedom of expression and harnessing the power of digital technology to persecute, harass and undermine those who challenge them.

Not only did the tyrants, despots and their allies attempt to again crack down on any seemingly independent thought within their own territories, several also sought to weaponise the legal system at home and abroad through the use of SLAPPs. Several EU member states, especially the Republic of Ireland, as well as the United Kingdom have found themselves at the centre of these legal attacks on freedom of expression.

SLAPPs weren’t the only threat to freedom of expression in 2023 though – from the crackdown on protesters in Iran, to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, the continuing repressive actions of Putin and Lukashenka, the end of freedom of expression in Hong Kong, the increasingly restrictions imposed by Modi, the latest war in the Middle East and the ongoing attacks on journalists in South America.

My depressing list could go on and on. However, we desperately need to find some hope in the world, so Index on Censorship ended 2023 with our campaign entitled “Moments of Freedom”, highlighting the good in the world so let’s carry on with that optimism. A new year brings new beginnings after all. So let’s focus on the new moments of light which will hopefully touch our lives this year.

Half the world’s population will go to the polls this year. That’s an extraordinary four billion people. Each with their own aspirations for their families, hopes for their country and dreams of a more secure world.

As a politician it should come as no surprise to anyone that I love elections. The best campaigns are politics at their purest, when the needs and aspirations of the electorate should be centre stage. Elections provide a moment when values are on the line. How people want to be governed, what rights they wish to advance and how they hold the powerful to account. These are all actioned through the ballot box.

There are elections taking place in countries significant for Index because of their likely impact on freedom of expression and the impact the results may have on the current internationally agreed norms, including Taiwan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, South Africa, Russia, Brazil, the European Union, the USA and the United Kingdom. And given current events we can only hope for elections in Israel to be added to the list. The list goes on with each election posing different questions and the results having a different impact on the current world order.

Many other human rights organisations will talk about the importance of these elections for international stability, and rightly so. At Index we will focus on what these elections mean for the dissidents, journalists, artists and academics. Our unique network of reporters and commentators around the world will allow us to bring you the hidden stories taking place and will highlight the threats and opportunities each result poses to freedom of expression. As with 2023, 2024 will be a year where Index hands a megaphone to dissidents so their voice is amplified.

The rallying cry for 2024 must be: “Your freedom needs you!” If you are one of the four billion remember that your ballot is the shield against would-be despots and tyrants. It is the ultimate democratic duty and responsibility and the consequences go far beyond your immediate neighbourhood – so use it and use it wisely.

Curtailing creativity today will lead to greater censorship tomorrow

How we express ourselves and the mediums we choose is an intensely intimate process. Artists, writers, dancers, actors and musicians think very hard about what they wish to convey and how they wish to convey it.

Creativity and freedom of expression go hand in hand. To curtail one imperils the other. Creativity that is confined is censorship and when freedom of expression is under threat, self-censorship in art and culture becomes more prevalent.

All of us who value our voices and our freedoms have a duty to promote and protect creativity and ensure that everyone can tell their stories – however challenging they may be – in whatever medium they choose.

We expect these challenging but universal rights to be upheld in every nation – and especially those that claim to share our democratic values. And you would have thought they would be a given within the European Union member states. Yet, it seems all too often we are likely to be disappointed.

Victor Orbán’s government of Hungary is a case in point. A member of the European Union, Hungary is seemingly on a path leading further away from the democratic norms we all hold dear and venturing off to the dark recesses of oppression.

This week, the target of Hungary’s increasing authoritarianism is the World Press Photo exhibition and specifically the work of Hannah Reyes Morales.

Reyes Morales is a widely respected artist who uses her art and her skill to tell the story of LGBTQI+ life in the Philippines based on her own lived experience. She explores the joy, the optimism, the heartache and the sorrow that modern life brings to everyone.

Her artwork is a canvas in which her representation of emotion is weaved delicately against her own experiences. It is a celebration of what it is to be human and a stark reminder of the fragility of what we all hold dear.

So, a celebrated artist of international standing showcasing her work in a European Country. That’s all good then, yes?

Apparently not.

Orbán’s government not only sought to censor the World Press Photo exhibition – they sought to ban any and all works which featured LGBTQI+ works.

The head of Hungary’s National Museum, Laszlo Simon, has now also been sacked for his curation of the exhibition. He is accused of providing access to material to under 18s which ‘promotes’ homosexuality under the controversial Hungarian law that bans the “display and promotion of homosexuality” in materials accessible to children, such as books and films.

While the head of the museum is clear that no laws were intentionally broken, the compliance with the rule is not the issue. It is the law itself which is an affront to freedoms. And the fact that for the first time on European soil the World Press Photo exhibition has been censored.

LGBTQI+ rights in Hungary are under attack and those who speak out are ostracised. Artistic freedom is under attack and those that challenge it do so at the fear of losing their jobs.

This is yet another attempt by the repressive regime of Viktor Orbán to erase minority voices, silence campaigns and censor anything that does not fit into his narrow world view.

The European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen has already called Orbán’s legislation a ‘disgrace’. Human rights organisations around the world have marked Hungary’s lurch to the populist right as a defining moment in European history and should pose the question to other EU members about the sort of leaders they want in their club.

But it also exposes the ease with which authoritarianism and censorship can spread. Curtailing creativity today will lead to greater censorship tomorrow.

Index on Censorship continues to – and always will –  share the stories of those silenced by Orbán. And we stand with Simon and Reyes-Morales as they try to make sure that all voices are heard and celebrated.


Index CEO writes open letter on EU plans for political advertising rules

Index on Censorship continues to have serious concerns about the EU plans for political advertising rules and the chilling effect on freedom of expression. Our CEO, Ruth Anderson, has written to the Presidents of the Council of the European Union, the European Commission and the European Parliament to urge a pause and a rethink ahead of the 2024 Elections.


Senor Pedro Sanchez MP, President, Council of the European Union

Ursula von der Leyen, President, European Commission

Roberta Metsola MEP, President of the European Parliament

Monday, 30th October 2023


Dear Presidents, 

A free and fair election is the cornerstone of a vibrant and functioning democracy. It is a right we all defend and it is what sets us apart from tyrants and demagogues. 

With the continuing advancement of digital campaigning and with more citizens consuming their news via digital platforms, it is entirely understandable that the European Union would seek to safeguard future elections with new protections. 

However any changes have to be considered through the prism of the shared fundamental right of freedom of expression. More than half of the citizens of the world now live in regimes where that freedom is constantly under threat. Like free and fair elections, the right to freedom of expression is something we must all cherish and defend. 

Index on Censorship, as a leading global advocate group for freedom of expression, continues to have serious concerns about the chilling effect that the proposed European Political Advertising regulations could have on freedom of expression. 

Whether it is journalists, civil society campaigners or politicians – it remains our position that each will see their freedom of expression curtailed as a result of your proposals. 

Our analysis is still that the system of flagging is open to abuse, the scope of the proposals would capture and silence too many voices seeking to share their lawful opinions and the requirements placed on large digital platforms to examine and remove content places too great a responsibility in the hands of unaccountable organisations and opaque algorithms. 

I do not doubt for one second the sincerity with which the European Union has approached the task of safeguarding elections from foreign interference. However, it is clear from the continuing tone of the debate and the stalemate that exists during the trialogues that consensus is still far away. 

The worst decision that the European Union could now make is to rush through contentious rules ahead of the June elections. The European Union elections are the second biggest exercise of democratic rights in the world – it would be a disaster to impose new rules so close to these elections when those rules do not command a broad consent from participants. 

The complex nature of current events rightly commands attention from the EU and represents a more immediate demand on time and resources. 

Index on Censorship would urge the EU to take a moment and pause, in order to consider how best to safeguard both the right to a free and fair election alongside the right to freedom of expression.  Do not be forced by time to rush into force, rules which have yet been agreed or tested. To do so now would be a dereliction of our collective duty to protect our basic rights. 

Index on Censorship remains ready to help the European Union navigate the complex nature of freedom of expression and I hope we can continue to work together to safeguard our hard-won – but fragile – freedoms.

Yours sincerely,


Ruth Anderson

CEO, Index on Censorship.