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State of the Czech disinformation community in 2017

The following Kremlin Watch Report deals with the activities of the Czech disinformation community. Specifically, it provides an overview of the key systematic findings about Czech disinformation outlets based on investigations into the topic carried out by the Kremlin Watch Program since November 2015. Therefore, it is not an in-depth research into individual cases, nor an overview of the whole disinformation scene, which includes non-governmental organisations, informal groups on social media, politicians and other entities. It is rather a brief excursion into the topic with some examples of the most powerful and active disinformation outlets and their practice. It will mostly serve to those exploring the topic, and it will also provide a general overview to all who are not yet aware how the Czech local disinformation scene works. Given the fact that the report deals with an issue that is dynamic and volatile, general trends that are identified in this report might slowly change depending on the receptivity of the Czech public to disinformation. The full report is available in PDF.

Regarding the Czech disinformation scene, based on the monitoring made since the start of the year 2017, we observe the following trends:

Trend 1: Most of the Czech disinformation sites are non-transparent. Frequently, it is not possible to identify their ownership and editorial structure, how they are funded, or how do they create and select content for publishing. Very rarely do disinformation sites provide such information on request. And if they do, only those that also provide it publicly on their websites.

Only a fraction of the people who make up the content of disinformation outlets is known. Some servers are based on the anonymity of the most active authors, who are hidden behind anonymous editorial abbreviations. These include AE News, First News and Parlamentní listy (Parliamentary letter). Based on the investigation of the Kremlin Watch team and some Czech investigative journalists, we estimate that identity of only a third of those who are the authors of disinformation articles is known. Consequently, there is a lack of transparency in the authors’ contributions and responsibilities.

Trend 2: In the case of disinformation outlets whose authors are not anonymous, there is a personal interconnection. Commentators on disinformation servers are repeating and their articles are being taken by akin servers. A case supporting this trend is the activity of businessmen Ondřej Geršl, who owns one of the most read pro-Kremlin servers called AC24 and another disinformation server Svět kolem nás (World Around Us). Noticeable is also a group of constantly repeating commentators publishing on various disinformation outlets, whose articles are being republished.

Sometimes, there is also an interconnection with Slovak disinformation entities. For example, a Slovak author of a propaganda project Zem & Vek moved into the Czech disinformation project Vědomí (Consciousness), which used to be published by AC24.

Trend 3: Disinformation servers are also linked to each other in content. Only a limited number of disinformation or misinformation appear only on one web page. Usually, it is reproduced or recycled by allied or ideologically similar pages with slight adjustments or completely unchanged. This is one of the reasons why it is sometimes problematic to find out where the false information has originated. Another reason is that they practically ignore the standards of journalism such as citation, differentiation between facts and presumptions, etc.

Trend 4: For some servers, foreign disinformation platforms serve as the source of information and content as well as the source of inspiration. These sources also repeat. In addition to the official Russian outlets Sputnik news agency and Russian television network RT, another widely cited pages are Global Research, Southfront, What Does It Mean, Breitbart, Zerohedge, etc. For example, the already mentioned web page AC24 mostly cites Breitbart, Snews, Zerohedge, South Front and Prison Planet. Czech disinformation platforms also use some typical manipulation techniques that these web pages regularly use in their texts. From this point of view, they are not much different in form. What is distinguishable is the degree of expressiveness and vulgarity.

Trend 5: Plagiarism is commonplace under the auspices of citations. The cited content is often deformed by selective choice and commentaries of editors. In this manner, disinformation platforms widely cite politicians and (purported) experts without their knowledge in order to support the platforms’ narratives and to create an image of credibility and legitimacy.

Trend 6: The amount of disinformation platforms is quite surprising considering their constant complains about the lack of financial resources, their limited number of contributors and relatively limited thematic focus. Despite the poor visual and content quality (grammatical mistakes) and generally inadequate quality of provided information, many of these websites maintain their reading base and continue in publishing a large number of articles per month, which are being shared on other websites and social networks.

Trend 7: Some outlets diminish their responsibility for the content produced by minimizing their own authorized content. Currently, we might observe that they shift their focus to republishing and recycling articles from other like-minded platforms. Both very active outlets, such as Parlamentní listy and Sputnik, as well as single-man projects tend to rely on articles taken from other web pages and to refer to politicians, journalists or alleged experts who fit into the general narrative. Consequently, they disclaim liability for their content by claiming that it is not an editorial opinion.

Trend 8: Disinformation outlets prefer foreign policy issues to domestic ones. Since the beginning of the year, the outlets paid attention mainly to the U.S. and to the European Union, with a very critical attitude towards these institutions. In addition to the criticism of both actors, disinformation and conspiracy theories were common.

Markéta Krejčí

Junior Analyst

E-mail: [email protected]

PROFILE: SMarkéta Krejčí has joined the European Values Think-Tank as intern in 2014, focusing on EU´s external relations. As a member of the Kremlin Watch Program since 2015, she is primarily responsible for the monitoring of the Czech disinformation scene and for contributions to the EEAS East StratCom Disinformation Review. Her second major weekly responsibility is reviewing and summarizing of the relevant studies published by expert institutions on this issue. In addition to the issue of the Kremlin’s information operations, she focuses on the eastern dimension of the European Union’s external relations. She is currently finishing her master’s degree in European Studies at the Faculty of Social Studies of Masaryk University in Brno.