22nd November 2017

Czech Centre for Investigative Journalism/The Slovak Spectator: How propaganda has learned to use the truth

The Czech Centre for Investigative Journalism analysed the information war in the Visegrad Group countries. This story has been published as part of the partnership between the Sme daily and the Czech Centre for Investigative Journalism. The project has been supported by the Open Society Fund Prague.

There is a study conducted by Miloš Gregor and Petra Vejvodová of the Masaryk University, dating back to 2016, that explores manipulative methods. It analysed almost 2,500 stories between March 1 and 31, 2016, which were published on the most read disinformation websites. The results showed that 17 percent of newscasts evoke negative emotions. Of the 17 percent, every fifth evoke hatred, every fourth evoked fear and almost one half evoked outrage.

“To affect emotions is much more effective than to target brain,“ Petra Vejvodová opined. The disinformation websites do not even need to create a certain atmosphere; they only need to support the moods which have already existed among people, she adds.

According to the Centre for Investigative Journalism, looking at disinformation websites in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary, we can distinguish between several types: First, there are the purely pro-Kremlin sites which openly support Russia and Vladimir Putin. Of the Europe-wide sample, they make-up about one-third. The Czech Republic is the last in the chart of their quantity.

Extreme right and nationalist websites are popular in Slovakia, in Poland and in Hungary; slightly less so in the Czech Republic. They stress the long history of the nation, traditional values and in Slavic nations, the presence of Pan-Slavism. According to the Computer Propaganda study, in Poland there were twice the number of automatised Twitter accounts spreading the extreme right agenda compared to the extreme left.

Clickbait websites gain profits from online advertisements that provide any sensational information – not necessarily sheer propaganda. However, they eagerly take over propagandist stories as they are freely available.

Extreme left websites, with anti-capitalist, anarchist or communist standpoints, are less popular. However, according to the analysis of meta-data, the Liberec-based (Czech Republic) branch of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) is under the same advertising Google code as the Parlamentní Listy website. This could be interpreted in the following way: the website of KSČM Liberec and its advertisement are administered by the same person as the websites of the Czech medium Parlamentní Listy and its partner editorial staff, Krajské Listy and Slovak Parlamentné Listy. No other websites have their advertising under this unique code.

Conspiracy theory websites are also growing in popularity. Sensational and scandalous content is always popular with readers, now more than ever since expert authorities have been losing influence, leading readers to turn to their own authorities.

The linguistic analysis, combined with the analysis of meta-data of about 100,000 stories made by the Semantic Visions for the Czech Centre for Investigative Journalism, points to several other interesting trends in the Czech Republic. The first one is working hours and vacations of the disinformation websites' operators. The stories are published between 9:00 and 18:00 and they appear much less during summer vacations.Semantic Visions analysed seven million stories, which led to a surprising finding: in Czech, there were 30 stories on Pizzagate; 458 in German, 11,872 in English – but only 56 in Russian. When the scope of Russian and Czech-speaking readers is compared, this disproportion is even more evident. Analyses of other issues showed similar results. For example, the story on George Soros, the alleged “devil's son“, has a similar publishing rate in these languages: in Czech, more stories appeared on him (125) than in Russian (75).

These surprising results show that Russians do not pollute their media space with such news, and focus on their own issues instead – different from central Europe.

Read full article published by the Slovek Spectator.

Read also Propaganda targets Czechs, Slovaks and Hungarians differently published by the Slovak Spectator.

Members of the American Chamber of Commerce in the Czech Republic