Disinformation
Disinformation Actors in Slovakia Are Blaming the West for the Food Crisis, While Monkeypox Outbreak Gives Rise to New Conspiracy Theories

Infosecurity.sk: Bi-Weekly Report on Emerging Disinformation Trends June 2, 2022
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© Oleg Chumakov via Canva.com

Much like with COVID-19, the spread of monkeypox leads to new conspiracy theories. Some say monkeypox is a new crisis invented by global elites. Meanwhile, pro-Kremlin actors blame the West for the food crisis caused by the Russian war in Ukraine. Slovak opposition politicians abuse current world issues to gain some points in domestic politics.

Infosecurity.sk provides an overview of disinformation trends that have been on the rise in the last two weeks:

  • Not a single case of monkeypox has been confirmed in Slovakia. Nevertheless, the disease is rapidly becoming a popular topic among conspiracy theorists. Like the COVID-19 pandemic, conspiracy theories about mysterious elites trying to control the world are spreading.
  • The world is currently facing a food crisis that can have serious repercussions for many countries. Slovak disinformation actors are again parroting Kremlin's rhetoric by blaming the West and especially Western sanctions on Russia for the crisis. However, it is the Russian occupation of Ukraine that plays an essential part in the food crisis.
  • COVID-19 and related topics are slowly disappearing from the discussions among conspirators. Hoaxes appear only rarely and when they do, they usually just recycle old disinformation.
  • Opposition politicians dominate the Slovak disinformation scene. The most frequent topics include fuel price increases and Russian gas and oil. Their statements mislead and abuse the issues for their political gain.

Another attempt of elites to control the population through the recent monkeypox epidemic

The topic of monkeypox immediately took place in the disinformation scene. Disinformation narratives, which were originally related to the COVID-19 pandemic, are now applied to the monkeypox topic.

Even before the first cases of monkeypox in Slovakia, the conspirator Danny Kollar, who is followed by 43,000 people on Telegram, claimed that monkeypox is only another “attempt of globalists to enslave people through artificially induced crises.” In the video, he says that “they” tried to intimidate people through the covid pandemic, then through the war in Ukraine, and now that the interest in these topics weakened, invented a new crisis.

Danny Kollar himself spreads fear among people, by saying that “they want to kill you and your children, they want to make your life more difficult, they want to depopulate, they want to do anything to force you to vote as they wish.”

Similar rhetoric is promoted by the well-known disinformation website Bádateľ.net. One article on monkeypox begins with an ironic remark: “Oh, no! Another scary disease called ’monkeypox’ allegedly spreads worldwide.” The article further suggests that monkeypox is an attempt by world powers to unleash another round of pandemic tyranny, culminating in“another magical new ’vaccine’ delivered at a lightning speed.”

An outlet named SKsprávy brought up a conspiracy theory that Bill Gates is behind the monkeypox. He allegedly uses “laboratory-generated infectious diseases to subjugate the global population to establish a tyrannical New World Order ruled by greedy people and elites like him.” The article, full of translation errors, was initially published abroad. According to the Sksprávy, its author Mike Whitney is a “recognized geopolitical and social analyst.” However, he has a history full of conspiracy theories.

The former Slovak PM Robert Fico also uses the rhetoric typical for conspiracy theories. At a recent press conference, he suggested that monkeypox is just another topic to cover up “the things that are happening here.”

However, the World Health Organization informs that monkeypox does not spread rapidly. The infection occurs primarily through close physical contact with the infected person. The course of the disease is not as grave as by smallpox. The elderly population is most probably protected by the smallpox vaccination.

Who Is Responsible for the Food Crisis? The Pro-Kremlin Actors Are Clear on This

The world is currently facing the most significant food crisis in recent years. As a result of the war in Ukraine, global food chains are disrupted. Ukraine, one of the largest wheat producers, cannot export its supplies. Several North African and Middle Eastern countries are dependent on Ukrainian wheat.

David Beasley, head of the UN food program, warns that current economic conditions are worse than those in 2011 when the Arab Spring began. The failure to open ports in Ukraine will cause hunger, destabilization, and mass migration.

The food crisis was also a topic at the summit of world leaders in Davos, Switzerland. According to Western leaders, Russia uses food supplies for blackmailing. Russian military ships block exports of up to 20 tons of grain in the Black Sea. This withholding of supplies leads to an increase in world food prices, ultimately causing hunger and instability. The president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen recalled the situation of the 1930s when the Soviets seized crops in Ukraine and caused a devastating famine.

How do Slovak disinformation outlets inform about the food crisis? We can clearly see that they are parroting the Kremlin's disinformation narratives.

The most common counter-argument is that it is the Western sanctions, which are to blame for the food crisis. Disinformation media are pointing fingers at the sanctions on Russian commodities allegedly causing the situation. At the same time, they do not hesitate to claim that the West wages a food war not only against Russia but also against their own citizens. According to another “alternative” outlet, Kyiv sabotages its own export capacity. The Ukrainian army allegedly lays mines in the seas, making it impossible for ships to sail.

Slovak opposition MP Ľuboš Blaha (SMER-SD party) wrote on his Facebook: “Because of the American interests, we risk hunger in Africa, new waves of migration, and a deepening of world poverty. So that Zelensky can have a show.”

According to the Kremlin, the West caused the global food crisis when it imposed the most severe sanctions on Russia in modern history. President Putin has objected to Western politicians by saying that accusations of Russia being responsible for the food crisis are unfounded and is ready to address the problem once sanctions are lifted.

Once again, we see the Slovak disinformation actors further spreading the Kremlin’s propagandist statements, which are quite misleading. They leave out the fact that no crisis, and therefore no sanctions, would have taken place if Russia had not attacked and occupied Ukraine in the first place.

The Topic of the COVID-19 Pandemic Is Currently Exhausted

The war in Ukraine remains a dominant disinformation topic in Slovakia, nevertheless, the monkeypox slowly starts to compete with it. Coronavirus disinformation appears only sporadically.

From time to time, fictional articles appear about some new classified report proving that anti-covid vaccines were deadly. At the same time, old and refuted hoaxes are recycled. Allegedly, wearing a face mask is dangerous, and aborted fetuses were used for vaccine development.

In connection with monkeypox, even people in Slovakia noticed the ingredients making up the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. Chimpanzee adenovirus vector is indeed used in its formula; however, there is no connection between the vaccine and the monkeypox.

Apart from the written disinformation, we also looked at the most trending videos on Slovak Facebook. We created a chart (see below) using the CrowdTangle analysis tool and with its help, we selected videos uploaded over the past 14 days. Rating of posts was based on the total number of interactions (likes, comments, shares). Most of the videos deal with the same topic – fuel price increases and the import of Russian gas.

TOP 10 disinformation videos
© infosecurity.sk

Far-right MEP Milan Uhrík, who shared footage from the press conference by Vladimír Soták, chairman of Klub 500, a non-profit organization uniting owners of larger companies, took first place in the ranking. The speaker in the video is vulgarly shouting that we (Slovakia) do not finance Putin’s war in Ukraine by sending money to Russia for gas. With this, Russia “can buy fertilizer and fertilize the fields so they can produce wheat.” The second video by Milan Uhrík contains his speech from the European Parliament. He opposed Slovakia’s disconnection from the Russian gas while using a typical disinformation narrative that Ukraine threatens Slovakia.

The second place belongs to Erik Kaliňák, a vice-chairman of the SMER-SD opposition party. In his Facebook post, he shared an interview from TA3 television, in which Siemens CEO Vladimír Slezák talks about the fact that Slovakia cannot operate without Russian raw materials and criticizes the consideration of proposing this independence on Russian gas.

Undoubtedly the most active is Robert Fico, a former prime minister and chairman of the SMER-SD party. In the videos that appear on the chart, he focuses primarily on the topics of rising fuel and gas prices. Although these are problems facing countries worldwide, Robert Fico uses the issues for political gain and accuses the current Slovak government of high prices.

Ľuboš Hrica, a well-known disinformation actor on social networks, also appeared in the chart. In his videos, he comments on Slovak domestic politics.

All of the above-mentioned actors often spread problematic content.

Project Infosecurity.sk organized 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.