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Analysis: Czech businessman wages disinformation campaign from Dubai to increase appetite for authoritarianism

18.8.2016 9:04
The Facebook profile of the disinformation platform We Are Here At Home .com (PHOTO:  Romea.cz)
The Facebook profile of the disinformation platform We Are Here At Home .com (PHOTO: Romea.cz)

Pro-Russian, conspiratorial, disinformation websites have recently become an established, well-known element of the online Czech media environment. Czech-language social networking sites are also involved in disseminating the uniquely "guaranteed truths" produced by these pro-Russian sites.

One example is a social media campaign called "We Are Here At Home .com", which is being conducted in the Facebook environment. The page has more than 68 000 fans.

Czech-language Facebook users became generally aware of the campaign in February 2016, when it published manipulative, tendentious headlines accompanying a video of a "man in a brown coat", implying that a conflict between two different groups demonstrating on either side of the migration issue in Prague had been staged. The campaign's implication was that one of the groups in the video was allegedly composed of masked police provocateurs posing as anti-migration demonstrators.

The video became a hit on social networking sites and over several days was viewed by more than half a million people, with many pro-Russian websites also republishing the conclusions it drew. Everything implied by the manipulative framing of the video, intended to shock viewers, was actually a hoax.

It is precisely the dissemination of this kind of "news" that is an integral component to and supportive element of the We Are Here At Home.com campaign. Most frequently this involves the recycling of video footage which, thanks to being repeatedly published and placed into the context of current events, acquires an entirely new dimension. 

Betting on fear

Another example of this campaign is its use of a CCTV recording of a sales clerk being attacked in the Phillipines in 2015. The creators of the campaign added manipulative headlines to the video implying that the incident took place in Europe, including a caption that reads:  "He stabbed a sales clerk for the cash. That's one way to get your getaway money while seeking a better life. Welcome to Europe."

The campaign uses many similar "reports" that are professionally edited and accompanied by jovial, vulgar captions with startling phrasing that call on viewers to share them. It is precisely this kind of content that is most popular and earns the corresponding reaction from fans.

The campaign is generally presented as a "patriotic" one, referencing love for the "nation", and harshly objecting to Islam and the reception of refugees. The main instrument used to beef up this "patriotism" is that of the untruths described above, published as if they were objective facts and aimed at viewers' emotions - especially those of fear, hatred and indignation.    

Sample commentaries facebook.com)

Zeman, Trump, Orbán and naturally, Putin

Political marketing is also part of the content of these emotional, manipulative communications. On the one hand, representatives of the Czech Government, the EU, individual EU Member States and the USA are unscrupulously defamed by them.

On the other hand, personalities such as Czech President Miloš Zeman, US presidential candidate Donald Trump, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and others representing so-called movements "against the system" and political parties supposedly in that vein are celebrated by the campaign. A special, privileged position is occupied by the personality of Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose speeches are regularly published, even those that are no longer news.

The pro-Russian imprint is significant here. Russia is generally presented as an imaginary ark of rescue, and the content of broadcasts by the Russian state television channel, RT, is frequently shared by the campaign.

Various theses propounded by Czech figures from a pro-Russian perspective who are especially active around the Parlamentní listy online tabloid, whose controversial articles are also a significant source of content for the campaign, are also represented there. Overall we can safely say that "We Are Here At Home .com" functions according to the scheme of a Russian disinformation campaign.

"A brilliant speech by Putin" on RT (facebook.com)

The campaign is doing its best to polarize public opinion, to escalate conflicts over opinions in society, and also to undermine faith in the Czech Government and other institutions. Its other favorite targets include Czech Television and the Czech Police. 

Take matters into your own hands!

The campaign also calls for "taking justice into your own hands". For example, it publishes pieces like the one with the headline "Bulgarians have already begun to shoot refugees", which achieved significant popularity among its fans.

Calls for "action" and the creation of armed "militias" are also characteristic of the campaign. When it comes to those who virtually consider themselves members of these militias, one can only assume who it is these hoaxes will try to influence them to target.

One example is that of Martin Holkup, a self-described member of the "Czechoslovak Reserve Soldiers", who spoke on Czech Television about shooting up the Office of the Czech Government. According to the campaign, using violence and weapons to solve current issues is desirable. 

Are you prepared? (facebook.com)

We Are Here At Home .com generally supplies its fans with a daily dose of hate in which everything is accompanied by the language of "the people", vulgarisms, and ridicule of those who hold an opposite viewpoint. The creators of this campaign are fully aware of the specific target group they are doing their best to reach.

The Dubai connection

As is usually the rule in the case of pro-Russian websites, this campaign is being conducted anonymously. All questions about who is behind the scenes, the persons involved, and the campaign's organizational and financial backing are immediately deleted from the online discussion on the pretext that they represent "trolling" by "optimists", and those asking such questions are immediately blocked from commenting further.

Posts that are aggressive, hateful, racist and vulgar are ignored by administrators. Given the amount of such posts and their sophistication, however, it is apparent that more than one person is contributing significant amounts of time to this campaign.

The only individual who can actually be identified through the registered owner of the We Are Here At Home .com domain is a certain Petr Mančík. He currently lives in Dubai (United Arab Emirates).

Mančík does business there as the CEO of a company called United Arab Emirates Agency, which specializes, among other things, in Internet marketing and PR. The firm also lists a Prague office, but Czech Television has ascertained that there is no such office at the address given.

Owner of the domaina (who.is)

Paradoxically, therefore, a situation has arisen in which a campaign sharply objecting to Islam and migrants is basically being run by a Czech migrant living among Muslims who is also an entrepreneur in the area of Internet marketing and PR, and who is not your usual civic activist. On his personal Facebook profile, Mančík also shares many photographs of himself with Muslims depicting him in a friendly spirit, and he shares texts in Arabic as well.

He comments on one such text as follows:  "Here I've posted what I photographed in an Arab shop. It's something like a line from the Quran about how God created the earth. Just like grandmothers used to have those embroidered refrains from the scriptures in their kitchens, they have this. It is interesting to compare Christianity with Islam. The more one learns, the less one's head produces prejudices, and the more you realize that the gods are many and the paths are many, only faith is true. There is only one faith."

From the Facebook profile of Petr Mančík (facebook.com)

Mančík also posts admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin to his personal Facebook profile, and his personal ties to members of the armed forces of the Czech Republic are also apparent there (more about him and his activities has been published on the neovlivni.cz ("Stop Influence.cz") website, in Czech only). The We Are Here At Home .com campaign is not his only achievement, though.

Other initiatives exhorting people to hate have also appeared from his Dubai workshop. A campaign for the 2017 elections in the Czech Republic is also turning up from there where the propaganda is of course delivered in a manipulative, "patriotic" spirit.

Apocalypse in political marketing services

We Are Here At Home .com is a campaign inciting people to hate. It simply flattens out all discussion of the issues around Islam and migration into hateful "facts" that can be easily worked with in the spirit of populism, racism, religious intolerance and xenophobia.

Through its Facebook page, the campaign disseminates content that is so explicitly aggressive as to be apocalyptic, mixed with political marketing in which individual entities and figures are presented either negatively or positively. A pro-Russian and Russian bent is also significant on the Facebook page, which shares both pro-Russian and Russian media.

This is a professionally conducted campaign with a thought-through publicity strategy targeting a specific circle of persons. Given its use of rhetoric that is aggressive, jovial, ridiculing and vulgar, as well as its use of shocking elements, it is targeting those individuals for whom such a form of communication about social problems is welcome.

The Facebook page also provides solutions that are aggressive, easy, and violent. It exploits the dissemination of negative emotions such as fear, hatred, panic and spite to promote its ideas.

The campaign also incites people "to take justice into their own hands". Its content, therefore, meets the definition of the propaganda of an authoritarian, totalitarian regime, as described by Jan Šubrt, a spokesperson for the Czech Security Information Services (BIS):  "... similarities to the propaganda of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes generally can be identified. The primary task of propaganda by regimes with power ambitions is to drive a wedge between people, to divide and split them, to denigrate institutions and governments, to create chaos and destabilize."

There is no doubt that radical manifestations of Islam and the refugee crisis pose a serious risk to Europe. Will we find the optimal solution to these problems, though, if we formulate our positions on the basis of hoaxes and under the infuence of emotions like fear and hatred?

The businessman in Dubai is doing his best to manipulate Czech society down to exactly that level through this Internet marketing and PR. The European Values think-tank published an analysis of the content of the We Are At Home Here . com campaign between 1 February and 15 May 2016 (Czech only).

Roman Máca is an analyst with the Kremlin Watch program of the European Values think-tank (Evropské hodnoty).

This piece was written for the Institute of Independent Journalism (Ústav Nezávislé Žurnalistiky), an independent nonprofit organization and  registered institute in the Czech Republic that provides information, journalism and news reporting. The analyses, articles and data produced by the Institute are offered to all for use without precondition.

Roman Máca, HlidaciPes.org, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Tags:  

Hoax, manipulace, Média, Migrace, Nenávist



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