Nigel Farage and the Brexit party have voted against stronger EU measures aimed at countering “highly dangerous” Russian disinformation.
The text passed comfortably with the support of the largest political groups in the European parliament – the centre-right European People’s party, Socialists, Liberals and Greens.
In the resolution, MEPs also criticised Facebook, accusing the social media company of not following up on most of the parliament’s demands to prevent a repeat of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where at least 87 million people had their data harvested without permission for use in targeted advertising campaigns in the 2016 US presidential election.
While the resolution is non-binding, it heightens pressure on the incoming leaders of the European commission and European council to keep a focus on countries seeking to meddle in elections and the operations of social media companies.
The text expressed “deep concern over the highly dangerous nature of Russian propaganda” and called on EU institutions to set a strategy to counter Russian disinformation.
East StratCom was set up on a shoestring budget in 2015 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea forced a rethink of relations with the Kremlin in Brussels, Paris and Berlin.
Its staff and funding have since been increased, but the unit has faced criticism for a handful of decisions – later reversed – to describe satirical or contrarian articles as “fake news”.
The resolution, which passed by 469 votes to 143, and 47 abstentions, revealed the bitter division among Britain’s MEPs.
The Liberal Democrats said they were “shocked and appalled” the Brexit party had voted against measures to tackle fake news.
“It is frankly shocking that Brexit party MEPs today refused to support enhanced measures to tackle attacks on our democratic processes from Russia and elsewhere,” said Catherine Bearder, the leader of Lib Dem MEPs. “They wrap themselves in the union flag, but they repeatedly fail to protect our national interest and do what is best for Britain.”
The Brexit party, which abstains or opposes most European parliament votes, hit back at the claims. “We will always vote against more power and spending by the EU,” said David Bull, a Brexit party MEP.
“We won’t take lessons in democracy from parties which have packed together in order to frustrate the Brexit vote. Stories of Russian interference have been exposed as baseless propaganda and scare stories used to shut down debate. As a party of free speech, we oppose shutting down debate.”
Facebook has previously said it intends to comply with EU laws on data protection. The company has been contacted for comment on the resolution.