Czech trolls tend to be individuals who act on a voluntary basis, says journalist who analysed scene

Photo: Pixabay, Public Domain

Just as in many other countries in the world the Czech online scene is filled with hateful comments and disinformation posing as news. The authors of this material are commonly referred to as “trolls” and their influence is increasingly seen as dangerous and divisive, potentially working on behalf of foreign actors. While this may be true in some cases it seems that the majority of the Czech troll scene is actually made up of individuals who do so voluntarily.

Ondřej Golis,  photo: Khalil Baalbaki / Czech Radio
A study conducted earlier this year showed that 55 percent of Czechs over the age of 15 have come across disinformation sites and so-called fake news at some point in their life.

The data, which was gathered by the agency Nielsen Admosphere on behalf of the Czech Fund of Independent Journalism, showed that the number of Czechs exposed to such manipulation has gone up by 7 percent in year-on-year terms.

The people who spread disinformation and hate on the internet are often referred to as ‘trolls’, but who exactly are they and do they belong to a uniform movement?

Journalist Ondřej Golis has taken a deeper look into the so-called internet troll phenomenon in the Czech Republic and shared his findings with Czech Radio.

“It is very hard to gauge their motivations. It is a varied mix. Often it is said that some of them are paid. While evidence for this has been found in foreign countries, we have not yet come across proof of Czech trolls receiving money.

“Most experts say that the majority of trolls are voluntary. They do this activity for a number of reasons, for example because it makes them confident. Then there are often trolls who are people in debt, or just people who are bored and find it fun.”

Golis divides trolls into three categories – influential trolls, foot-soldiers and trolls who use a fake profile. Foot soldiers are the most common type and they are often characterised by the fact that they do not consider themselves to be trolls at all. Rather, they see themselves as patriots who are merely trying to open people’s eyes to their sense of truth. This is accompanied by frequent posting of articles from disinformation sites, or graphs which they have created themselves, Golis says.

According to the journalist, trolls that fall into the 'influential' category are those who have attracted a following and they often operate their own news channels on platforms such as on Youtube and Facebook. One example of this, he says, is Raptor TV.

Photo: Pixabay,  Public Domain
A group of Czech anti-troll fighters, who call themselves “Elves”, recently came out with an observation that the Czech of certain trolls contains words and expressions based on the Russian language, so-called "russianisms". This led them to suggest that while these troll profiles pretend to be Czech, the slight nuances in their language indicate that they are in fact not.

Nevertheless, the vast majority of these trolls seem to be Czechs, says Golis.

According to him, there is still not enough data to create a completely accurate picture on the Czech troll scene, which is evolving very quickly at the same time. But there are signs that some Czech trolls get their information either directly or indirectly from Russian outlets.

“There are indications, but we cannot say with certainty. One of the indicators is the fact that these disinformers take over the agenda pushed forward by Russian media. Often we see that a specific take on the news appears in a Russian outlet and within a few days it appears on our disinformation scene.”