Disinformation discussion ‘beyond the grasp’ of Finns Party politicians

File picture of flags outside European Parliament building, Strasbourg / Credit: iStock

Finns Party politicians at the European Parliament have voted repeatedly this month to block efforts to fight disinformation and interference by foreign governments in elections in European Union countries.

The move effectively makes Laura Huhtasaari and Teuvo Hakkarainen ‘useful idiots’ for Vladimir Putin, with Kremlin-backed news outlets regularly targeting EU countries including Finland with fake news and disinformation, and Russia accused of meddling in a number of European elections in recent years.

In a damning comment, a senior Finnish MEP calls the discussion over disinformation in society ‘beyond the grasp’ of Huhtasaari and Hakkarainen.

European Parliament votes on disinformation 

Earlier this month the European Parliament debated several amendments to legislation designed to prevent hybrid threats, including cases of foreign interference through funding political parties.

The European Parliament says is has identified almost a thousand cases of disinformation attributed to Russia alone this year.

“Foreign interference has a systematic pattern, be it through campaigns on social media, cyber-attacks on infrastructure related to elections or financial support to political parties in the run-up to all major national and European elections” says the European Parliament in a statement.

“Much of this interference benefits anti-EU, extremist and populist candidates.”

While 469 MEPs voted for the resolution warning about the risks to democratic societies through disinformation, the two Finns Party MEPs joined other right wing politicians in voting against it.

The might not be taking instructions directly from Vladimir Putin, but MEPs who oppose measures to stop Russian interference certainly help him.

File picture inside European Parliament chamber in Brussels / Credit: iStock

Why do Finns Party MEPs not want to stop disinformation? 

News Now Finland contacted both Laura Huhtasaari and Teuvo Hakkarainen to ask them why they voted against the final text of the resolution, and several amendments, but neither replied.

However, Huhtasaari had previously spoken about the issue at a European Parliament session in Strasbourg in September, when foreign intervention in elections and disinformation in democratic processes was being discussed.

At that time she said the EU should “strengthen its freedom of expression if we are truly on the side of democracy.”

“Is is clear that not only Russia, but also the United States and China want to influence European elections in their own way” said the politician.

Huhtasaari said former US President Barack Obama had tried to pressure British voters with trade deals to “prevent them voting wrong” – she presumably means in the 2016 Brexit referendum, where there are numerous allegations of Russian interference with the leave EU campaign.

“It is underestimating voters to claim that Brexit, Trump’s election and the victory of numerous nationalist parties are due to conspiracy theories, anger, and Russia. The victory stems from the fact that the people genuinely want to stop harmful immigration, stop Islamization, they want to defend the sovereignty, borders, culture and Christian values of nation states” Huhtasaari said in the September Strasbourg speech.

The former Finnish presidential candidate contradicts herself in just a few sentences.

First she says that not just Russia, but other countries interfere in European elections; then she goes on to say that any suggestion Russia interferes in elections is just a conspiracy theory.

File picture of MEP Nils Torvalds (SFP), at European Parliament / Credit: Nils Torvalds Facebook

Reaction from Commission, Finnish MEPs 

Not surprisingly there is support across EU institutions for more robust action to counter the threat posed by disinformation – part of the hybrid war threat the block faces.

“Disinformation is a rapidly changing threat. The tactics used by internal and external actors evolve as quickly as the measures adopted by states and online platforms to counter them” a European Commission Spokesperson tells News Now Finland.

“Continuous research and adequate human and financial resources are required to counter new trends and practices, to better detect and expose disinformation campaigns, and to raise preparedness at EU and national level” the Spokesperson adds.

Fellow Finnish MEPs have also spoken out about Laura Huhtasaari and Teuvo Hakkarainen’s voting record in this regard.

“I think the position of right-wing populists is to allow Russia to mess up our homeland and spread false propaganda” says Green Alliance MEP Ville Niinistö, adding that in Austria this year it lead to a government crisis.

Swedish People’s Party MEP, and former presidential candidate, Nils Torvalds says he doesn’t think most Finnish people share Huhtasaari and Hakkarainen’s opinions on the subject. But he has some empathy with how they and their voters might feel left behind by the breakneck pace of societal change in the last few decades.

“They see a society, in values and in jobs, very different from the one they grew up in” he says.

“The result is something which probably could be described as a need for self-deception, where fake news lands in a cultural environment very much as distorted as the pieces of fake news” he tells News Now Finland.

“I have been listening to them, and they almost always have their facts wrong because the ‘right facts’ don’t sit very well in their world view” says Torvalds.

“We are struggling with complicated and manifold challenges. The discussion is very often lopsided, because few activists give themselves the time to look at all sides” he explains.

“But from a True Finn perspective, it’s a discussion beyond their grasp.”

File picture of flags outside European Parliament building in Brussels / Credit: iStock