Slovakia’s Pre-Election Disinformation Challenge

This is a phenomenon that alerts disinformation experts and democracy defense associations. As Slovaks are called to the polls on Saturday September 30, they are inundated with false information, coming both from political figures in the campaign and from abroad.

Peter Duboczi, editor-in-chief of the site fighting against disinformation, cited by AFP, notes that “the ecosystem of disinformation in Slovakia […] is today reaching its peak”. He fears that this weekend’s legislative election will be the first to “reflect the full potential of disinformation.” According to him, the main propagators of this fake news are Slovak politicians. The favorite for the post of Prime Minister, Robert Fico, leader of Smer, the populist left party accused of corruption when he was in power from 2006 to 2010 and from 2012 to 2018, is increasing his pro-Russian declarations. Among them is the idea that the war in Ukraine began in 2014 because Ukrainian “fascists” killed Russian civilians. An unfounded accusation but often used by the Kremlin and affiliated media.

Pro-Russian messages more visible on social networks

Robert Fico is not alone in borrowing elements of language from Moscow. Andrej Danko, the president of the Slovak National Party (SNS), a far-right party that should garner enough votes to have seats in Parliament, declared in July that the territories currently occupied by Russia were not “ historically Ukrainian”, taking up one of the main arguments put forward by Moscow to justify the invasion of Ukraine. Peter Duboczi even accuses them of being “armed arms of Russian propaganda”.

More broadly, according to the London-based non-profit anti-disinformation organization Reset, 15% of the 365,000 election-related disinformation messages recorded during the first two weeks of September came from pro-Russian accounts. These messages are also seen much more often, generating five times more exposure than an average message.

A very active Russian embassy on Facebook

Some of the pro-Russian disinformation spread in Slovakia since the invasion of Ukraine can even be directly attributed to Moscow. According to Tomas Krissak, an analyst at Gerulata Technologies, a start-up specializing in disinformation, the Russian embassy in Slovakia is “the most active of all Russian embassies in the world if we look at Facebook data” and spreads “ a lot of misinformation and manipulative narratives. Effective propaganda, since according to a survey by the Slovak think tank Globsec, only 31% of Slovaks have a positive opinion of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

However, the candidates are not only inspired by Vladimir Putin. Taking notes on Donald Trump’s strategy in the 2020 US presidential election, Robert Fico as well as MEP and member of the nationalist Republika party Milan Uhrik have already warned of possible electoral fraud, without provide no proof of what they were saying.

Another neurosis imported from across the Atlantic, this time from Florida and its Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, speeches against the LGBT+ community have also increased. In his latest campaign video Robert Fico mocks the leader of the liberal Slovakia Progressive (PS) party, Michal Simecka, by asking whether he “identifies as a boy, a girl or a helicopter”. He also declared that “gender ideology in schools is unacceptable.” Former centrist Prime Minister Igor Matovic, in office from March 2020 to March 2021, also posted on social networks: “73 genres? Sick. Convert 12 year old girls into boys? Sick.”

Analysts and experts are also warning of other disinformation campaigns, particularly relating to the arrival of migrants from the Middle East. The Slovak police chief, Stefan Hamran, even recently had to ask politicians to stop spreading false information relating to immigration, because it was starting to hinder the work of the police.

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