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May 31, 2020
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Czech journalists find the man behind the Aeronet disinformation server

6.3.2020 8:41
Marek Pešl, the man behind the nickname
Marek Pešl, the man behind the nickname "Vedoucí kolotoče" ("Merry-go-round Manager") who runs the Czech-language disinformation website Aeronet. (PHOTO: Czech Television)

Public broadcaster Czech Television has revealed that, together with reporters from the magazine RESPEKT, their staff has spent several years tracking down the secretive source of the disinformation published on the Czech-language Aeronet server and have managed to discover who is responsible. Manager Marek Pešl was intercepted by the reporters on a housing estate in Trenčín, Slovakia.

Pešl regularly changes his permanent residency address and almost never leaves his apartment, but his manipulative articles, which do not explain their sources of information and feature no bylines, have influenced political events in the Czech Republic more than once. During his first contact with the reporters, he explained why he was in hiding as follows: "If you all did honest reporting, it wouldn't be a problem. However, you're always showing off..."

The reporters then asked what it was they had done that struck Pešl as "showing off", and he replied: "It has to do, for example, I don't know, with how you report information about Ukraine. The way in which the Ukrainian Government is terrorizing its own population in the east of the country, how the Czech Government is supplying arms to the Ukrainian Government to destroy its own population."

Jan Paďourek, a former deputy director of Czech counter-intelligence, commented on the footage of that interview as follows: "My first impression is that you are speaking with a person who has some kind of problem and who has a very ideologically pronounced perspective on this world." Later in the interview, the reporters asked the Aeronet manager how he got the job.

"In the year 2014 I was contacted by a group of people. It's a group of people who essentially are from the patriotic, or we can call it the nationalistic, front," Pešl answered.

The reporters asked about the origin of the group and he answered: "They're Czechs. Please, no Russians are engaged in these affairs. That is, again, disinformation being disseminated by journalists, the idea that some Russians are attempting to interfere, doing their best to essentially something influence something in the Czech Republic. I also just want to say I'm not claiming that can't happen."

Czech Television's "Reporters" program first began to take an interest in the Aeronet server at the beginning of 2016. Back then those in favor of the European Union and migration were physically clashing in Prague with those opposed to both phenomena.

After that incident took place, disinformation websites posted video footage of it that same evening along with the explosive allegations that the clash between left-wing activists and members of the ultra-right on Thunovská Street had been kicked off by, and then managed by, a man in a brown jacket whom they claimed had been a police officer in disguise. It was soon shown that the man in the brown jacket actually was a police officer, but he had been at the scene as a member of the anti-conflict team meant to prevent the demonstrators from scuffling.

The allegations that police provoked that incident were a typical example of the way disinformation websites manipulate information: They put information that is true in a context of deception. Back then, in 2016, Pešl was the sole recipient of the money sent by Aeronet's readers to keep it running.

On a monthly basis this was an amount of roughly EUR 1 300. The reporters ascertained that Pešl used a proxy in order to access that money.

In the beginning of his conversation with the reporters, Pešl claimed the content on Aeronet was his, but a couple of minutes later he reversed himself and denied that he is the "Merry-go-round Manager" (which is how whoever authors the articles on Aeronet signs them). Pešl then said he makes a living dealing in cryptocurrency and that he aids the people from Aeronet with their operations.

"The money that arrives in cash I exchange for cryptocurrency and send to the editors of Aeronet," Pešl told the reporters, adding that he functions like a "money exchange". The fact that he is the person who not only cashes in on the money from those who contribute, which is at least three-quarters of a million Czech crowns annually (EUR 30 000), but also that he is the person who controls Aeronet's social media, was revealed by a recent technical error on Facebook.

Thanks to the glitch it was possible to see, over the course of several hours, who specifically administers each individual Facebook page. It turned out that just one person had access to the Aeronet account, and the social network gave his location as Slovakia.

Before Facebook fixed the error, the Czech news server Deník N ascertained that the Aeronet page is administered by an absolutely anonymous account under the invented English name "Dylan Taylor". That name was used by Pešl when Aeronet was a closed platform for computer enthusiasts and had nothing to do with politics yet.

Aeronet, among other things, has published an anti-Romani article about the Protectorate-era concentration camp for Roma at Lety u Písku that is just teeming with disinformation, hatred and lies. The disinformation website also alleges that "Cikáni in the Czech Republic want their own Holocaust because the Eliáš Government during the Protectorate wanted to house them and teach them to work."

The full article with the video footage is available here (Czech only).

fk, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Česká televize, Dezinformační web, Média



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