Organized Disinformation in Poland: An Ongoing Investigative Story

Updated: Mar 9

Speaker: Anna Gielewska

Moderator: Brigitte Alfter


December 11th, 2020, 16:55-17:25 CET

This discussion was organized in cooperation with the International Visegrad Fund.


Written by Tom Dautzenberg


Keywords: Investigative Journalism, Disinformation, Trolls, Collaborative Research


Summary

During this session, Polish investigative journalist Anna Gielewska shared her findings and experiences as part of her activities in researching the organized spread of disinformation, propaganda and conspiracy theories. Through cross-sector cooperation, her team managed to confirm the existence of multiple troll farms in Poland and expose these, working for different types of clients.


Project or approach to be discussed in this session

  • In order to investigate the existence of ‘disinformation by hire’, the research starts with two ‘legs’ of investigation.

  • On one side, there is the technical side of content analysis, investigating the fake accounts and profiles that are created by troll farms and researching the networks that are established, in order to find narratives and topics on how the troll firms emerge.

  • At the other side, data analysis and field reporting are done, as well as asking for explanations and confronting the organisations behind this spreading of disinformation, which is the more traditional journalist side of the research

  • With this combination of approaches, troll farms and networks of disinformation can be exposed.

Evidence of impact

Multiple investigative journalism stories written as result of the research of Gielewska and the VSquare Project have been published by Polish and international media such as Buzzfeed and The Guardian. These stories also had an impact in starting public debate, forcing some major companies such as Coca Cola to withdraw from their cooperation with PR-companies that assisted in spreading disinformation.


Limitations, risks of the approach provided by the speaker

Investigative journalism on the organised spread of disinformation and ‘disinformation for hire’ form a new specialisation of research, which on some occasions seems to be closer to academic research than to traditional media. Reporters will have to invest in getting familiar with the tools and methods that are necessary to successfully research the topic. Besides that, new technologies are constantly being developed, and reporters need to stay aware of new developments such as ‘deepfake’-technologies and AI-content creation.


Takeaways

1. Disinformation by hire is a growing business that we have to be aware of and that we need to be reporting on.

2. Investigative journalism on disinformation and troll farms is a new specialisation within journalism which requires reporters to start understanding the disinformation industry and learning new tools and methods to find out what the key actors and structures are.

3. This new discipline of investigative journalism can be approached from different angles, and an intersection between journalism and academic research can turn out to be fruitful.

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