Czech Civil Society Fights Back Against Fake News

In the Czech Republic, the media ecosystem is plagued by disinformation. A group of PR professionals have teamed up to cut off dodgy outlets from their main, and often only, source of income — online ads.

The shadow of Soviet-era influence still looms large over the Czech Republic. Recently, it has recently experienced a spate of disinformation and fake news — a blend of pro-Russian propaganda and anti-EU rhetoric.

Besides media outlets like the Russian government-sponsored Sputnik, there are dozens of other online media platforms churning out popular Kremlin talking points to the country’s unsuspecting audiences. According to various estimates, the Czech-language disinformation outlets reach about 10% of the country’s population.

While some of those outlets show a clear political orientation, often strictly anti-EU and anti-liberal, others seem to favor whatever type of content can generate the most clicks, from anti-5G conspiracy theories to pictures of German Chancellor Angela Merkel standing alongside Adolf Hitler, drawing parallels between today’s Germany and the Nazi Third Reich.

Roman Cihalik, a Prague-based PR professional, says that he and his colleagues could no longer bare seeing their work on one of the many disinformation websites on the Czech internet.

“From our experience, the absolute majority of companies who advertise online have no idea where their ads end up,” Cihalik says.

In order to help companies safeguard their reputation, as well as to cut Czech-language disinformation outlets from their key source of revenue, Cihalik teamed up with others to set up an association called Nelez (“Do not lie”).

The initiative offers free-of-charge consultations for companies, providing guidance through the muddy world of online advertising, and making sure their clients’ online ads don’t end up on sites spreading falsehoods.

Since 2018, Seznam, which, like Google, runs an online advertising platform, has offered its clients the option to block their ads from appearing on websites listed by Konspiratori.sk, a public database of Czech and Slovak websites that traffic in disinformation.

 

 

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