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November 18, 2019
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Czech Internet trolls have competition - "elves" are combating disinformation and propaganda

5.11.2018 10:22
The Czech-language servers that spread disinformation and racism. (Collage:  Romea.cz)
The Czech-language servers that spread disinformation and racism. (Collage: Romea.cz)

News server Aktuálně.cz reports that the Internet trolls who are disseminating disinformation and frequently pro-Kremlin propaganda in the Czech language now have strong rivals. They call themselves "elves", there are several dozen of them in the Czech Republic, and they are keeping their identities secret for their own safety.

The "elves" are men and women from different professions including doctors, teachers, business people and even soldiers. "We know that thethe  divisions in our society and the support for extremes is the result of intentional behavior, foreign interests are behind it, it's being done by those who are the enemies of our values, with various motivations. Let's call them the 'trolls' - they are insidious, motivated, skillful, and sometimes even dangerous. A society based on freedom will be endangered by them and needs protection," reads the declaration that the news server has received from a founder of the group of volunteers in the Czech Republic, somebody who apparently also works at a top-ranking job in the public arena.

The Czech elves were inspired by the Baltic countries, where other elves have been active against Internet trolls for some time. In Lithuania there are already several hundred such elves, but the platform is just now being developed in the Czech Republic.

Their activity consists of tracking down the originators of disinformation online, including on social networks, and mapping chain e-mails that are sent around, as well as actively responding to the disinformation being disseminated. "It bothers us that today the concept of patriotism has not just become empty, it has been turned inside-out. We want to protect our state and combat Russian propaganda. We are students, doctors, teachers, firefighters, business people, cyber-specialists, artists, craftspeople, scientists, police and soldiers," explains the Czech elves' founder.

The elves are doing this work free of charge in their free time. Many investigative journalists, including Finnish journalist Jessika Aro, have demonstrated that the trolls are paid by the Kremlin.

"The trolls from the farm in St. Petersburg work for roughly EUR 400 a month," she told Aktuálně.cz one year ago. There are also cases of former "trolls" who have publicly spoken about their activity.

Marat Mindiyarov, who worked for two months in the St. Petersburg division of the Institute for Internet Research, which directs the activity of the Federal Intelligence Agency in this regard, confessed what he had been doing to the BBC. Liberal media outlets in Russia call the St. Petersburg facility the biggest "troll farm" in the country, and Mindiyarov's task was to write 135 online commentaries per day, primarily in debates about the conflict in Ukraine.

"If this were WWII, we would be the resistance"

Some public figures are active among the elves' ranks but will reveal their identities only later. "We are people who would have been active in the resistance during the war - citizens who feel a responsibility for their state," one of the founders says. For the time being the founder will only reveal that some of the people behind the Facebook profile "Smějící se bestie" ("The Laughing Beast") or the Twitter account "Občanská výchova" ("Civic education") are part of the elvish community.

Through their activity, the Czech elves are doing their best to beef up the efforts of the Czech secret services and nonprofit organizations dedicated to refuting disinformation and lies. "We are convinced that the Czech secret services are effective and professional, but we are missing a clear definition from the state itself about the fact that this battle against the information war is even happening in Czech society," the initiator of the Czech elves says.

In his view, Czechs have a big disadvantage compared to the Baltic states:  "Most of the inhabitants [of the Baltics] are aware of the massive disinformation campaigns directed by Russia. Here society has already been divided by them."

voj, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Dezinformační web, Internet, Média, Sociální sítě



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