Unsubstantiated allegations about democratic parties being shared by Czech Internet users in the runup to European elections
Breaking news! "Mafia summary! "Karel" investigation file reveals connection between Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) and TOP09 on financing of the business and judicial mafia!"
That was the headline for an article published to the anti-system, disinformation website Aeronet.cz at the beginning of April that has made its way into chain e-mails intended to influence the upcoming European elections. The piece functions as an example of the kind of allegations such articles contain, how they are or are not verified, and how people share them.
Prior to the last elections to the Czech Parliament, a fabricated "scandal" about lithium was the topic of similar propagandizing. After a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Czech Industry and Trade Ministry and a company in the lithium industry, the anonymously-operated Aeronet.cz alleged that the conclusion of the deal was meant to profit the ČSSD in some way.
That report became a hit on the chain e-mail and social network circuits. Aeronet launched the "mafia" article referenced above on 2 April, apparently hoping for the same effect.
We won't be sharing that article here, just these excerpts: "During this investigation evidentiary materials disappeared, the prosecutor has abandoned the case, and leading politicians wielding state power are entangled with the mafia! The mafia, in collaboration with these politicians, has cheated the Czech state of CZK 14 billion! This explosive investigative file reveals that political parties are being financed through shell companies, fictitious invoices and fake property owners!"
In almost 30 000 characters - roughly twice as long as even the longest magazine articles usually are - this piece offers a remarkable maze of allegations and impressions put into a sensational context. Another random sample claims: "We will reveal the descriptive part of the so-called Karel file that made it to the desk of the former director of the Organized Crime Detection Unit (ÚOOZ) Robert Šlachta and to [prosecutor] Lenka Bradáčová. They both quietly returned the file both to the former ÚOOZ and to the Office for the Detection of Corruption and Financial Crime (ÚOKFK) (currently the National Headquarters against Organized Crime - NCOZ)."
The story is teeming with anecdotes about a "gypsy buying uranium", the Čepro company's bills of exchange, secret BIS (Security Information Service) operations, and supplies of weapons to Saddam Hussein. All of it has one aim: To describe how the TOP 09 party was allegedly established by Miroslav Kalousek.
If an able journalist wanted to go about verifying this entire extensive story, it would take months even with a team of assistants. Of course, Aeronet.cz is claiming to have published the entire alleged investigation file without verifying any of it at all (for example, by contacting any of the dozens of figures who are mentioned in it) - and facilitates the sharing of the material either by e-mail or on social networks from within the article.
Timing ahead of elections is no accident
This could just be an example of Aeronet's somewhat loose journalistic practice, irrespective of who is behind it. However, the piece itself contains a passage that inadvertently admits its association with the elections.
"People say truth and love pass through the stomach. Czech politicians have an organ there that is much tougher than average. Once TOP09, their spinoff the STAN party, and the ČSSD begin to overwhelm us during the EU election campaign with their poetic phrases about responsible economic management by the EU and the state, let's look at how the mafia entrepreneurs associated with them stole CZK 13.5 billion over the course of three years," the article alleges.
The editors at HlídacíPes.org ("Watchdog.org") have recently been contacted by a reader who attached a chain e-mail including this Aeronet piece to his own message, which read: "Good day to you. Your work and your writing about everything bad here certainly makes sense, but this report, if you read the entire thing, and if it's based on actual facts, will probably be a lot for you to chew on."
"Somewhere the reality of this situation can certainly be ascertained," the reader said. The problem, naturally, is that ascertaining what that reality is in the actual amount of time left before the elections is a practically impossible task.
When we search for parts of the Aeronet text online, we can form a precise idea overall of where it has already been shared. The original link to Aeronet has been posted to Facebook and to the "New World Order Opposition" website, which is well-known as a disinformation source.
What is also worth noting is that the Aeronet piece is being inserted into online discussion forums beneath other texts. The piece is bouncing around on the Russian social media site "In Contact", which Czech disinformation sharers also use to share subject matter that might be blocked on Facebook.
The Aeronet piece has also been posted to online discussion forums run by regional newspapers in the Czech Republic. According to the Map of the Media project organized by the semiotician Josef Šlerka with the support of the Endowment Fund for Independent Journalism, such material is why he classifies Aeronet.cz as an anti-system or, if you will, a disinformation website.
The NWOO.org website falls in that category as well. Šlerka categorizes the regional news servers online, with all of their local editions, as political tabloids.
Those websites serve as a bridge between the anti-system media outlets and the mainstream ones. They provide a platform for a broad spectrum of political opinions, including those typical of disinformation websites.
This article was written for the Institute for Independent Journalism in the Czech Republic, an independent, nonprofit organization and registered institute involved in publishing information, journalism and news reporting. Its analyses, articles and data outputs are offered to all equally for use under certain conditions.
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