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Fake News Becoming the Norm in Poland


FILE - Demonstrators hold banners "Free Parliamnent, Free Media, Free Poles" during a protest in Gdansk, Poland, Dec. 17, 2016.

Poland, like many European countries, has been targeted by Russian propagandists with disinformation campaigns. Experts say the effort is aimed at the country's political discussion.

They say many false accounts were opened on Polish Facebook, and other sites, in 2014 during a period of protests in neighboring Ukraine.

Russian propagandists are focusing on inciting Polish nationalist, anti-Western and anti-Ukrainian feelings. They often work with political organizations already on the extremes of liberal or conservative thinking.

At the same time Polish political marketing companies are also at work in the country. They are creating fake news, troll factories and harassment campaigns. Their methods are similar to those used by Russian propagandists.

In addition, Poland’s ruling party, PiS, or Law and Justice, is slowly taking measures to restrict press freedom. Soon after its election, the PiS government took control of Poland’s public broadcaster. PiS is now focusing on foreign-owned media companies. The party also is seeking to supervise use of money given to non-governmental organizations. The European Union has condemned that effort.

This year, the independent U.S.-based researcher Freedom House rated Poland’s media only “partly free.” The group produces an annual report on press freedom around the world.

The Freedom House report said the Polish government showed "intolerance toward independent or critical reporting,” as well as a high level of political interference in public media. It said Poland was also restricting expression about Polish history and identity.

Critics have also raised objections to the ruling party’s own successful social media campaigns. The critics say the party uses paid trolls on social media and news sites. They also accuse PiS of using automated social media accounts that can spread memes rapidly.

Robert Gorwa is a team researcher with Oxford University’s Internet Institute. He says its studies “found PiS to have developed an "extraordinarily effective online resurgence.”

Gorwa said the research showed higher levels of so-called bots, or automated accounts, on Polish Twitter than expected. He said the examination also found there were more than twice as many suspicious PiS or nationalist accounts than extreme liberal ones. The nationalist accounts also posted more often than those of the opposing side.

Gorwa said liberal or moderate accounts appeared to repost information from more established media organizations, politicians and journalists. The PiS and nationalist-linked fake accounts, he said, supported extreme points of view and spread “political disinformation” from untrustworthy sources.

Gorwa said they also broadcast xenophobic content.

Media activists in neighboring Ukraine say they have found similar propaganda activity in their country.

Tetiana Popova is a former Ukrainian deputy minister for information policy.

She said "We are seeing targeted social media hate and harassment campaigns by Ukrainian troll factories. Now the troll farms are being used against anti-corruption journalists and activists."

I’m Phil Dierking.

This story was originally written by Jamie Dettmer for VOANews.com. Phil Dierking adapted the story for VOA Learning English from an Associated Press report. Caty Weaver was the editor.

How well do you trust the news and media of your country? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.

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Words in This Story

bots - n. a software application that runs automated tasks (scripts) over the Internet.​

harass - n. to annoy or bother (someone) in a constant or repeated way​

resurgence - n. a growth or increase that occurs after a period without growth or increase​

spectrum - n. a complete range of different opinions, people, etc.​

troll - n. a person who tries to cause problems on an Internet message board by posting messages that cause other people to argue, become angry, etc.​

xenophobic - adj. someone who has a fear or hatred of strangers or foreigners​

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