Global Focus – Romania

by: Vicky Sybir

Hey there!
Vicky here. I just came back from my summer AFE in Bucharest, Romania and I am now planning to do research for the second part of my internship.

This March, I applied for an internship with the Global Focus NGO in Romania. It was exciting to think about interning with an organization that works on in-depth topics related to the field of international security and governmental policy recommendations. As part of my research, I was working on Russian hybrid methods in regions of the Black Sea, Balkan region and observing informational warfare in general. The core studies of Global Focus lay in the area of identifying vulnerabilities and writing policy recommendations.

This experience was new for me, and speaking honestly, somewhat breathtaking; living so close to Romania (about 6 hours drive from my home city) I was never thinking of our similarities that now appear to be enormous. This part of my studies was extremely interesting: from one side, Ukraine and Romania have a lot in common, such as the influence of the Orthodox church, internal problems and rivalry among anti-corruption NGOs, weakness of civil society institutes and from the other, Romania is less vulnerable to Russian propaganda because of the language issue.
Among the tasks I was working on, was research on the implementation of the Code of Practice, a doctrine signed by tech giants to protect the users. This part was more general; however, it gave me an understanding of what is going on in this area from the technical side. For example, signatories (Facebook, Google and Twitter) must not discuss, communicate or exchange any commercially sensitive information, including non-public information on prices, marketing and advertising strategy, costs and revenues, trading terms and conditions with third parties (including purchasing strategy), terms of supply, trade programmes or distribution strategy. Along with the above, terms of publishing political ads are stricter than ever, which is supposed to decrease electoral fraud and manipulations during campaigns.

Results of the code implementation were impressive. According to the latest report from February 2019, Google prevented more than 50,000 ads from being served due to the advertisers’ failure to meet its verification requirements. Moreover, Google recalled its Transparency Report on political advertising in the EU and its searchable ads library, which provides data on sponsor identity, amounts spent and display periods. The report also informs on targeting criteria (age, gender and location) and the number of impressions per ad. Google did not report any progress about providing transparency around issue-based advertising.

Facebook launched the Ads Library Report in May 2019, which provides information on the number of political and issue-based ads per Member State as well as the aggregated amount that advertisers spend. It also includes information per advertiser, i.e. the name of the page running the ads, the “paid for by” disclaimer, the amount spent and a link to the ads in the Ad Library.

Twitter provides information on ads prevented from being served because they failed to pass the certification process obligatory for political campaigning advertisers. Between 11 April and 20 May 2019, 503 such ads were blocked. Furthermore, Twitter reported on 27 political campaigning advertisers certified, with 21 of them having run ads. Twitter also reported on the total number of political campaigning applicants (70 EU-wide) and provided a breakdown per Member State.

After completing this work with Global Focus, I have now begun the second part of my AFE, which is doing research on the “dark power” in the hybrid wars. I traveled to the Balkans for interviews on my thesis topic, which is mainly concentrated on the connections and ties of criminal gangs of Romania, Serbia and Greece with Russian intelligence services. I was truly lucky to meet some very good contacts from the ministry of justice and Belgrade as well as people from Timisoara NGOs, who generously shared precious information that I will work on during the following year. The final aspect of my research will focus on Greece gangs, particularly, Ded Khasan’s activity in a region. Now, having a short break, I am monitoring Ukrainian Parliament elections and really missing the calm and productive campus time.

Hope your summer is bright, crazy and very fruitful!

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