Political actors accuse polling agencies of manipulating pre-election polls, anti-LGBT rhetoric intensifies
- As Slovakia's parliamentary elections approach, political actors are spreading conspiracy theories about election manipulation and claims of manipulated pre-election polls. However, these narratives lack evidence and serve to create chaos in the lead-up to the elections.
- Many political figures in Slovakia are directing attacks at non-governmental organizations (NGOs), falsely portraying them as unregulated entities. These unfounded accusations undermine the work of NGOs, which often support disadvantaged and vulnerable groups.
- Hostile rhetoric against the LGBT community has intensified during the election campaign, with some politicians using derogatory language and making false claims about this minority group. Such rhetoric not only harms the LGBT community but also contributes to normalizing hate and discrimination.
Political actors accuse agencies and media of manipulating pre-election polls
In recent months, the Slovak information space has been marked mainly by topics related to the upcoming parliamentary elections, which will take place on the 30th of September. Various political actors are using and exploiting various topics to gain as much public support as possible to achieve their own political goals. However, as the election date gets closer, damaging narratives and disinformation are increasingly coming to the front.
One of these narratives is the manipulation of elections, which has no supporting evidence and therefore remains a mere conspiracy theory spread by those attempting to create chaos before the elections. However, in addition to this one, a similar narrative has begun to spread, which speaks of manipulating pre-election polls by polling agencies. This disinformation was spread mainly by far-right parties, but it did not take long for it to spread across the information space.
Milan Mazurek, a member of the far-right Republika party, has posted a video on his Facebook page questioning the results of recent polls. He also suggests that the polling agencies are trying to manipulate the public, citing differences between the polls as the reason for this suspicion. The video has since been re-shared by other members of the Republika party and various disinformation sites, thanks to which it has accumulated more than 130 thousand views at the time of writing this report.
The same idea was presented by Erik Tomáš, a member of the social democratic HLAS-SD party. He said on his Facebook page that preferences for the party differ in various surveys, which is supposed to prove that "there is something wrong with the polls".
However, it is important to note that the variation in individual polls is normal. The same political party's preferences can be measured differently in multiple surveys at the same time because the result inherently depends on the type of survey sample or data collection method utilized.
Furthermore, it is also paradoxical that when polling agencies predict the parties' preferences that members are satisfied with, they boast about the results on social media. Otherwise, they present them as manipulative and inaccurate. This only speaks to the inconsistency of the arguments that these political actors are presenting to the public and to the spinning of narratives as they see fit.
Since the allegations of poll manipulation were one of the biggest topics in Slovak information space in the past two weeks, we also looked at it through an optic of a list of disinformation actors in Slovakia. We used the CrowdTangle analysis tool to analyze the most popular posts on Slovak Facebook that include the keywords “polls” (“prieskumy”). Posts were evaluated based on the total number of interactions (the sum of all reactions, comments, and shares).
The first place belongs to the aforementioned post by Milan Mazurek, in which he accuses the polling agencies of manipulating the polls and questioning the authenticity of the results.
The second place belongs to the already-mentioned post made by Erik Tomáš inaccurately pointing out the inconsistencies in the poll results.
The disinformation site Neverím falošným politikom (“I don’t trust fake politicians”) posted a photo of a campaign meeting of the liberal Progresívne Slovensko party (“Progressive Slovakia”), which has become a frequent target of attacks by anti-system and far-right parties in their election campaigns. Pointing out that the meeting is empty, the photo states “Meeting of a party with 18,5 %”. The caption reads: “Good thing those media outlets and agencies that do the polls aren't embarrassed!” By this, the site insinuates that the polls are rigged in favour of the party and they use the picture as evidence of its’ unpopularity. While the photo was realIn reality, it was taken in a way that makes it purposefully seem like the the party has no supporters and the post lacks any context for such conclusions to be made. Additionally, drawing a correlation between one empty campaign booth and a party’s nationwide preferences is completely illogical and inherently manipulative.
Milan Uhrík, an MEP and a chairman of the far-right Republika party, re-posted the aforementioned video of Milan Mazurek. He also added that the Slovak citizens should “prepare for heavy electoral manipulation”, which only further reinforces people's scepticism and distrust of legitimate sources of information in an already chaotic period.
The last place belongs to a post made by the disinformation site Bádateľ that reads: “A new poll has already measured SMER-SSD at 24.5% and all the liberal-progressive media are quiet!” The page did not provide any context as to what survey it was referring to. In addition, it tries to portray the media as biased because they supposedly did not report on this particular poll. However, all the results of the pre-election polls that come out are always public and the media report on them regularly, which makes the narrative that Bádateľ is trying to push untrue. Furthermore, the claim about the mainstream media favouring progressive parties has been frequently used by disinformation actors when the preferences of those parties rise to undermine their success in the polls.
Politicians and disinformers attack NGOs
Another prominent tactic of many political actors in the pre-election period was to attack NGOs. These actors often blame such organisations for developments to which they have no connection whatsoever, purposefully disinform about their nature and link them to foreign influences, which, in the vast majority of cases, has no basis in reality.
By far one of the most popular posts spreading negative sentiment regarding NGOs was a post made by Robert Fico, former MP and chairman of the anti-system SMER-SSD party. In a Facebook post, he claims that his party “refuses the dictate of NGOs” and that they “will not allow censorship… just because it does not coincide with the main line of opinion given by Brussels or Washington”.
The official page of the SMER-SSD party used a similar rhetoric saying that the media and NGOs are trying to “confuse” the citizens about “what is important”. Additionally, Dagmar Kramplová, a member of the right wing and conservative SNS party (“Slovak National Party”), went as far as to call NGOs “scumbags” in one of her posts. The post was re-shared by the official account of the party.
In this rhetoric, political actors take advantage of the fact that the public is often unfamiliar with how NGOs work and what powers they actually have. These organisations are often portrayed as all-powerful and unregulated, in some cases even operating above the state, which is far from being the reality. However, NGOs and their activities are regulated by law and controlled by state authorities, which makes statements about their "dictatorship" and influence on the public untrue and highly manipulative.
It is also important to add that most NGOs in Slovakia are dedicated to helping the socially disadvantaged, the sick or children. Such damaging rhetoric therefore directly undermines the work of important parts of the non-profit sector, especially in areas where state assistance is lagging behind. Furthermore, the rhetoric of dividing NGOs into political and non-political in order to control them or stop their funding is reminiscent of the practices of authoritarian regimes such as Russia against the nongovernmental sector, which aims to silence any non-state opposition.
Anti-LGBT rhetoric is on the rise
The election campaign has seen an increase in damaging narratives and hostile rhetoric on a number of issues. In addition to the alleged manipulation of elections and pre-election polls, or attacks on NGOs and the media, there is also the spread of negative sentiment around various minorities. One of them is the LGBT community, against whom negative rhetoric from politicians has exponentially intensified in the last two weeks.
Recently, during a political discussion, a chairman of a conservative KDH party Milan Majerský called the LGBT “a plague” that has the power to “destroy a country” and compared it to corruption. Even though he then backtracked on his statement, some political actors still took to social media to defend the hurtful rhetoric and exploit it for their own gain.
Milan Krajniak, a vice-chairman of the Sme Rodina party (“We Are a Family”), pushed the same rhetoric calling the LGBT “a plague” and claiming that it “destroys the society in the West”. Additionally, according to disinformation site Slobodný vysielač (“Free Broadcaster”), Majersky’s statements were correct and they were supposedly manipulated by the media to make him seem like “a hateful person”.
Erik Kaliňák, a member of the anti-system SMER-SSD party, also elaborated on the issue by posting a video with the description “Gender ideology is a plague. Period!” and claimed it was created by “paedophiles”. In the video, he also tries to backtrack by saying that he is not “talking about L, G or B”. This, however, does not make his statements any less hurtful, since they are still targeting and pushing a false narrative about a highly marginalized group of people.
Many politicians and the actors who support them are currently utilizing the LGBT issue to further their own political goals, capitalizing on the relatively conservative nature of Slovak society, which they then pragmatically exploit. However, the language they convey on social media resonates in society, normalizing hate toward members of this community, which too frequently spills over into real life. This rhetoric is present despite the fact that less than a year ago a homosexual couple was murdered in Slovakia as a result of this hatred.
Project Infosecurity.sk organized by Adapt 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.