Disinformation is flooding the Czech Republic, says report

The Czech internet has seen a significant increase in articles containing disinformation and fake news.

 William Nattrass

Written by William Nattrass Published on 21.10.2021 11:32 (updated on 21.10.2021) Reading time: 2 minutes

Amid the uncertainties of the Covid pandemic, disinformation spread online has become more dangerous than ever. The proliferation of untrustworthy information sources online means more care than ever is now needed in distinguishing truth from falsehood.

Problems with disinformation are becoming particularly acute in the Czech Republic. According to a new study by the European Values Center for Security Policy, the Czech internet has seen a steadily increase in the number of articles containing disinformation and fake news.

In 2019, the center recorded 181,317 articles containing fake news, twice as many as in 2016. Websites dedicated to spreading disinformation can exert a huge influence on public opinion. According to the Czech Association of Communications Agencies (AKA), the largest Czech disinformation website is visited over eight million times each month.

It is feared that online disinformation went into overdrive during the uncertainty of the pandemic. A cooperation was set up between the Czech Ministry of Health and a leading disinformation analytical company at the height of the pandemic, but was halted when the Ministry of Health allegedly failed to take steps recommended by the company.

And a study earlier this year by the Endowment Fund for Independent Journalism (NFNZ) revealed that 66 percent of Czechs have encountered disinformation online, an increase of 11 percent from 2020. Analysts believe around 12 to 16 percent of the population actively believes in disinformation campaigns spread online.

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“Among these, there is a prevalence of the older generation, residents of small- and medium-sized towns, and people with low incomes,” said Josef Šlerka, managing director of NFNZ and Head of New Media Studies at Charles University.

Foreign actors are often blamed for the spread of disinformation online. After revelations about Russian involvement in an arms depot blast in Vrbětice in 2014 were made public, for example, analysts noted a concerted disinformation campaign from official Russian sources to muddy the waters, described as “disinformation warfare” by one commentator.

Experts from the Association of Communications Agencies also warn of the role that corporate brand advertising can play in facilitating the spread of disinformation through untrustworthy websites.

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“The Prague Security Studies Institute (PSSI) estimates that Czech conspiracy websites receive around CZK 190,000 for online advertisements. These sums allow them to keep spreading conspiracy theories, propaganda and hatred,” said Jonáš Syrovátka from the PSSI.

The Association for Communications Agencies and the Faculty of Social Sciences of Charles University are now launching a campaign, called the Brand Safety Academy, to warn companies about the dangers of advertising on fake news websites. But a concerted effort is needed to halt the spread of disinformation in the Czech Republic: including caution from the business sector, communication from government authorities, and greater vigilance from the general public.

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