Visualising Influence

2020-10-09

Globsec, in partnership with Political Capital and the Prague Security Studies Institute, conducted research on disinformation networks on Slovak, Hungarian and Czech Facebook. To achieve this, the partners used maps created by Graphika, which helps visualize the connections between individual Facebook pages based on . The key findings of the project are:

  • The Slovak network is occupied by a  wide spectrum of the Slovak political scene represented by the former SMER-SD ruling party, the Slovak National Party and the far-right Kotleba ĽSNS party. The central location of these pages indicates that their content plays an important role in the Slovak Facebook public sphere. It is important to note that data collection for this map was conducted between March and April 2020, shortly after the new government came to power in the country. This may explain the less prominent appearance of parties that make up the current government coalition.

Map of Slovak Facebook

  • The Czech Facebook sphere is centred around mainstream media outlets, which are themselves closely linked to NGOs focused on education and social activities, indicating relatively frequent levels of interaction between these groups. Czech political parties, however, are relatively distant from the centre of the map, suggesting they do not play a  dominant role in influencing the public discourse on Facebook in the country. The political parties are, moreover, diffused across the map from one another, signifying a degree of political polarisation and weak bonds between parties and society. Pro-Russian Facebook sites, closely linked with conspiracy pages, are on the periphery of the Czech map, implying a confined reach to and interactions with other groups in the overarching societal network. Their messages resonate primarily among specific subsets of the population including, among others, exponents of Pan-Slavic ideas, paganistic groups and left-wing radicals. For this reason, it is important to especially scrutinize actors who may bring anti-system narratives from the margins into the mainstream.

Map of Czech Facebook

  • Pertinently, there is notable overlap between the Slovak Politics category, at the centre, and Slovak and Czech disinformation sites, demonstrating mutual interactions (likes and follows) between the communities and confirming the widely held presumption that once fringe narratives are now managing to seep into the mainstream political discourse in Slovakia. Resembling a  wave, Kremlin disinformation and propaganda meanders from high-density official Kremlin Facebook pages (which themselves exhibit significant overlap with pro-Kremlin militaristic communities) to anti-Ukrainian and pro-Kremlin communities. These latter sites are, in turn, in close proximity to Slovak and Czech disinformation outlets at the core of the Slovak Facebook map.
  • The Hungarian Facebook public sphere is more decidedly segregated compared to those in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, with pages organised into relatively distinct groups. This fact underscores the vast ideological divisions apparent within Hungarian society. There are indeed sparse connections between pro-government pages, on the one side, and groups encompassing independent media, NGOs, and opposition actors, on the other. Pro-Russian and anti-West disinformation sites, some of which are connected to official Russian media outlets, are on the extreme fringe of the map in Hungary. A  central issue in terms of pro-Russian influence in Hungary concerns progovernment groups of pages that routinely publish content that conform to pro-Kremlin narratives and provide favourable coverage on Russia, China and other authoritarian regimes. As the map illustrates, pro-government pages, represented in brown, are dispersed across the map and interact with other groups as well.

Map of Hungarian Facebook

Please find the full study here.

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