Democracy Digest: Slovakia’s Infectious ‘Infodemic’

In a country where polls show more than half of people believe conspiracy theories and two-thirds do not trust state institutions, hoaxes and fake news have an infectious power.

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After a divisive election in February, online attacks on Slovakia's liberal democratic order have mutated into attacks on the new government, the EU and the West during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"There are immigrants running around Europe, many of them totally unchecked, bringing coronavirus here," Marian Kotleba, leader of the far-right Kotlebovci - People's Party Our Slovakia (LSNS), said in a March 12 video shared widely on social networks.

In addition to blaming migrants for the spread of COVID-19, LSNS politicians have accused the US army of a stealth invasion of Europe.

"They come here in collaboration with NATO to provoke us and see what a war against Russia might look like," Milan Uhrik, an MEP for the LSNS, wrote in a Facebook post featuring an image of US army tanks travelling through Europe.

Slovak police regularly debunk hoaxes on a dedicated Facebook page and have launched criminal investigations into the most serious offenses. This week, police warned of a new hoax about the government "handing Slovak airports to the Americans".

Analysts say Slovakia is facing not just the coronavirus crisis but also an 'infodemic'. Illustration: BIRN

Mindful that such information can cause panic and polarisation at a time of crisis, civil society activists and cyber security experts have stepped up efforts to bring order to the information chaos.

According to the...

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