The Czech government is to set up a specialist “anti-fake news” unit as officials attempt to tackle falsehoods, predominantly about migrants, which they claim are spread by websites supported by the government of Russian president Vladimir Putin. The new unit will aim to counteract interference in the Czech Republic’s forthcoming general election, to be held in October, amid polling evidence that online disinformation is influencing public opinion and threatening to destabilise the country’s democratic system, established after the fall of communism in 1989. Although definite links are hard to prove, officials say they are convinced the Kremlin is behind about 40 Czech-language websites presenting radical views, conspiracy theories and inaccurate reports. The officials believe the objective is to transform the Czech Republic’s current status as a western-aligned country.
“The key goal of Russian propaganda in the Czech Republic is to sow doubts into the minds of the people that democracy is the best system to organise a country, to build negative images of the European Union and Nato, and [to] discourage people from participation in the democratic processes,” Tomáš Prouza, the Czech government’s state secretary for European affairs, told the Guardian.
Part of the interior ministry, the new Centre Against Terrorism and Hybrid Threats will begin operating on 1 January with 20 full-time specialists. They will be based in the building that was used as an interrogation centre by the former communist regime’s secret police during the cold war, when the former Czechoslovakia was a close ally of the Soviet Union.