Boris Johnson's resignation is the beginning of the Western collapse, Slovak disinformation actors claim
Infosecurity.sk presents an overview of disinformation trends that have been on the rise in information space in the past two weeks:
- The rise in new cases of coronavirus infection has also led to an increase in disinformation spread about vaccination. Disinformation actors are trying to create distrust by spreading false information about the effectiveness and safety of vaccines.
- The same disinformation narratives are still being disseminated about the war in Ukraine. Pro-Kremlin propagandists are trying to help Russia by undermining the steps taken by the West or by spreading fake news about the actions of the Ukrainian army.
- Disinformation actors in Slovakia have also used breaking news from the United Kingdom about the resignation of Boris Johnson. They are misleading by saying that Johnson is stepping down because of his foreign policy steps, especially his support for Ukraine. However, the real reason behind his resignation is various domestic political scandals.
- Propagandists are using the fall of the Prime Minister Boris Johnson to create a narrative that Western policy towards Russia is failing, and this event in British politics is the beginning of a broader collapse of the West.
The new wave of COVID-19 raises more conspiracies about vaccines
With the growing number of new cases of COVID-19 infection in Slovakia, disinformation about the disease began to appear more often. The goal of the disinformation actors is to raise doubts among people about vaccines.
One of active disinformation actors is psychiatrist Radoslav Čičala, who has been questioning vaccination for a long time. He publishes posts in the Public against coercion and psychological torture group on Facebook and also on the channel of the same name on Telegram. His posts are also shared on the disinformation portal Inenoviny.sk.
In the article "The doctor warns, especially those vaccinated with 3 doses have problems" he talks about the fact that only patients who have been vaccinated three times and yet endured severe COVID-19 come to his clinic. At the same time, he adds that he is unaware of any case of severe COVID-19 in an unvaccinated person in the last month.
He attached official data to the post, according to which 66.88% of positive people are fully vaccinated. However, no clear conclusions can be drawn from this data alone, which would question the effectiveness of vaccines.
The second article by Čičala states in the title: “After vaccination, high bilirubin, lymphocytes, eczema, allergies are more common.” However, he does not support his claim with any scientific evidence.
Čičala has long been known for spreading conspiracies. In the past, he also promoted the extremist far-right party ĽSNS (People's Party Our Slovakia).
Several conspiracy articles about the coronavirus appeared on Badatel.net, which has long shared dangerous conspiracy theories focused mainly on health. According to one piece, COVID-19 vaccines are more harmful than smoking cigarettes. Another article claims that millions of people are invalids due to the vaccines. There is also an article titled “A brutal drop in the birth rate: The vaccination genocide is confirmed!” The last article fits into the false narrative that the world elites are trying to depopulate the planet, even through vaccines against the coronavirus.
Several pages on Facebook shared an identical post, including an article on the Magazín 1 website. The post and article talk about an interview with Novak Djokovic. He talks about his anti-vax stance and suggests that vaccines are harmful. Profiles that collectively shared the post are, for example, Mário Vidák, Marian Kotleba - Kandidát na prezidenta Slovenskej republiky (Marian Kotleba - Candidate for the President of the Slovak Republic), Marián Mišún - spoločne pre národ (Marián Mišún - together for the nation). All the mentioned profiles and even the Magazín 1 portal are linked to the ĽSNS party, which has long refused vaccination and anti-pandemic measures.
Disinformation narratives are still being spread about the war in Ukraine
In the last two weeks, disinformation about the war in Ukraine has recorded a stable curve. The same false narratives are re-emerging. They seek to discredit Western aid to Ukraine, discredit the Ukrainian government and President Zelenskyy, and justify the barbaric actions of the Russian military.
The Ministry of Defense of the Slovak Republic responded to disinformation that the Ukrainian army is setting fire to its wheat fields. According to the ministry, the Russian military is destroying Ukrainian crops in an attempt to create a food crisis.
Pro-Kremlin propagandists are still trying to question the effectiveness of sanctions against Russia to undermine Western actions. Disinformation outlet InfoVojna is quoting Putin himself in the title of the article: “Anti-Russian sanctions could cause a catastrophic rise in energy prices for EU households, Putin warned.” InfoVojna does not hesitate to insert blatant propaganda directly into the titles of articles, for example: “Food price rises are breaking records. It could reach 20 percent by autumn. Stabilization will be resolved by an end to the conflict in Ukraine, which is being perpetuated and supported by Western states by endlessly sending arms to the regime in Kyiv.”
Disinformation actors often refer to the Hungarian Prime Minister. Magazín 1 published the article with the following title: “Orbán’s strong message: No more sanctions, we need an immediate ceasefire and peace negotiations!”
There are also conspiracy theories still floating around on the internet. According to InfoVojna, a "special operation" in Ukraine has uncovered secret documents that the United States is planning biological warfare against Russia. The article was reproduced and translated from Russian sources.
Boris Johnson's resignation as a symbol of the disintegration of the West?
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has decided to resign from his post. The pro-Kremlin actors seem to be delighted with the news while exploiting the British government’s problems to further their own interests.
Opposition MP Ľuboš Blaha questions the actions of Western countries concerning the war in Ukraine. Allegedly, it cost Johnson the Prime Minister's seat, Biden is at an all-time low in public opinion, and Macron significantly weakened in the parliamentary elections. He also mentioned domestic politics in Italy, Spain, and Germany. He claims that because of the sanctions against Russia, there are high energy and food prices, inevitable crises, high inflation, and there will soon be high unemployment.
According to Blaha, the sanctions have zero effect, the Russians are clearly winning, and "warmongers" like Johnson and Biden are paying for it. The USA and Europe are in political crises. The war is being artificially prolonged, and Slovaks and the Slovak economy will suffer as a result.
But the disinformation actors are not talking about the real reasons why Boris Johnson resigned. Johnson was forced to resign after the pressure from the Conservative party members over several scandals.
Whether it be the breach of lockdown measures when hosting parties at the Prime Minister's residence, or the recent controversy regarding Conservative MP Chris Pincher. Johnson's handling of sexual misconduct allegations against Chris Pincher was the last straw for other senior Conservative MPs to pressure the Prime Minister to step down.
Johnson's resignation is, therefore, unrelated to what is happening in Ukraine. The United Kingdom has consistently supported Ukrainian efforts to defend itself against Russian aggression. The weakening of Macron's position in the French parliament or the declining support for the US President Biden also have explanations based on domestic politics. None of the political crises mentioned were triggered by support for Ukraine and the West remains united.
Blaha concludes his post with the statement: “The world is about to explode. [...] The whole world is on fire. Because instead of looking for a path to peace, the West just wants to arm and wage war against Russia. Wars that it cannot win. All warmongers eventually end up like Johnson. So that it won't be too late. Get off the shortcut, Russophobes! While there is still time!”
Blaha is a staunch defender of the Kremlin. Before Facebook banned his account, he had about 174,000 followers on his public page. Now, he moved to Telegram, where little over 26,000 people follow him.
As the following analysis shows, this narrative is repeated by many other major actors on social media. Disinformation actors are using Johnson's resignation to criticize the West and its actions in relation to Russia's war in Ukraine.
Disinformers take every opportunity to undermine the West
Since Boris Johnson's resignation was one of the biggest news of recent international events, we also looked at it through the lenses of disinformation actors in Slovakia. We used the CrowdTangle analysis tool to show the most popular posts on Slovak Facebook that include the keyword Johnson. Posts were evaluated based on the total number of interactions (the sum of all reactions, comments, and shares).
Anna Belousovová is a former member of the Slovak parliament. She posted an ironic assessment that sanctions against Russia may not have been a bad idea. In her view, sanctions are the reason behind Johnson's fall, Biden's declining approval rate, or Putin's allegedly growing support. Belousovová makes no secret of her nationalist sentiments.
The second place in the chart was taken by MP Slavěna Vorobelová, who was elected to the parliament on a ticket of the extremist party ĽSNS. In the post, she calls on the Slovak Prime Minister and the President to follow the lead of "their beloved Western allies.'" Vorobelová misled by claiming Johnson is stepping down after bad economic, geopolitical, energy, and strategic decisions.
Armáda Ruskej Federácie (The Army of the Russian Federation) has long been a well-known disinformation actor in Slovakia that is promoting the Russian army and spreading pro-Kremlin propaganda. In a post reporting on Johnson's resignation, they concluded that the house of cards is beginning to collapse. In doing so, they suggest the false narrative that this is the beginning of a broader collapse of the West triggered by actions against Russia.
The post by Veci verejné (Public Affairs) is not about Johnson's resignation, but about his remarks that the war in Ukraine would not have started if Putin was a woman.
Disinformation radio station Slobodný vysielač reported on Johnson’s resignation. They commented on the news: "it turns out that all of his problems and incompetence simply cannot be covered up by Russia..." Thus suggesting yet another false narrative that the war in Ukraine is just a cover-up of the West's own problems.
Project Infosecurity.sk organised by STRATPOL – Strategic Policy Institute and Slovak Security Policy Institute, which is supported by the Prague office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, continuously monitors the activities of both Slovak and foreign disinformation actors, but focuses mainly on the former. The project activities are built upon daily monitoring of emerging disinformation, hoaxes, and conspiracy theories in the online information space. This approach allows the analysts to identify disinformation posts and narratives that resonated with the public the most, as well as to find out where they originated, and how they spread and evolved on social media. The report takes the form of a bi-weekly summary of arising trends in the spread of malicious information content online. Based on that, Infosecurity.sk can warn the public about emerging and current trends in the field of disinformation, manipulation, and propaganda.