Counterattack in Slovak schools against Russian disinformation

Slovakia is trying to fend off widespread fake news operations, especially from Russia. Since the war, they have been trying to use disinformation to undermine support for Ukraine in neighboring Slovakia.

The Slovakian police launched a tough counter-campaign. Hundreds of schools also use special education programs to make children resilient. President Zuzana Čaputová even invited King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima to a school in the northern town of Liptovský Mikuláš as part of a state visit to draw attention to the problem. The problem is the order of the day there.

The President of the Czech Republic died. A Russian cemetery was destroyed in Slovakia. “I even heard that Russia is going to invade the rest of Europe,” says 15-year-old Simon. He became suspicious of the news and after a brief investigation revealed it was a hoax. But it’s problematic, he says. “It can scare people.”

‘Hard to deal with’

Principal Jana Cuprova finds that her students sometimes struggle with conflicting messages. “We thought the information was too obvious to them, but we found that it was completely wrong. There are also Ukrainian children who come to school with different information than we get here. It was hard for the kids to deal with leaving.”

Therefore, children are taught to answer questions such as: What’s the joke? And why is disinformation spreading? “We want to help them become active citizens who can deal with it,” says Cuprova. It is supported by the IPAO, a teacher training organization for such classes.

Founder Jana Feherpatakiy-Kuzmová says this is urgently needed. “Learning programs in Slovakia focus more on assimilating and memorizing knowledge rather than applying it in practice. For example, one learns what the Constitution is, but cannot learn to recognize it when it is violated. Critical thinking is an essential skill for modern citizens, even when it comes to fake news.”

Hybrid Warfare

Slovak police concluded in a special report last year that the problem is big. Since the Russian occupation, Slovakia has been “inundated with campaigns of disinformation and manipulation more than ever”. This is a hybrid form of warfare that “threatens the safety of all residents and the future of the democratic system in Slovakia”.

Damien Imre, Deputy Chief of Police of Slovakia, said these were deliberate actions by Russia to cause chaos in countries that could support Ukraine. “There are also reports from the Russian embassy in Bratislava that many fake news distributors are using it as inspiration for disinformation.” Like the news that a Russian cemetery was destroyed, which was not true.

Close ties between Slovak fake news distributors and Russia were also evident in a deal caught on camera by Slovak security services. Parts of this video came out last year.

It shows two men in a park somewhere in Slovakia. “I told Moscow what a good boy he was,” says a Russian colonel who works at the embassy in Bratislava. “Moscow has decided that you should become a warrior.”

“The Hunter” is a Slovak who writes on websites that spread fake news, including the war in Ukraine. He was given 1,000 euros and is now required to provide confidential information and links to Russia. He is now arrested.

He reached an agreement last month that he could trust a former Slovakian prime minister as his lawyer in court. He faces three years in prison.

Unmask one by one

Meanwhile, the Slovakian police do not stand still on social media. There they fight fake news by refuting the news in detail one by one. Users are cautioned not to agree with sentiments that might help Russia, such as: B. Dissatisfaction with support for Ukrainian refugees cared for in Slovakia.

For example, the police posted a photo of a girl without an arm. “Yes,” he says, “my hand was cut off and my father was killed for a free sweater.”

“In this age where facts are no longer valuable, emotions are bestsellers,” says police officer Imre. “So if the other party is using emotions to spread disinformation effectively, we should counter them in the same way.” The Police Facebook page currently has 150,000 followers.

Source: NOS