Disinformation network on Facebook supported by Polish Deputy Minister of Digitization

Photo: Flickr/downloadsource.fr, (CC BY 2.0)
Photo: Flickr/downloadsource.fr, (CC BY 2.0)

Facebook has broken up a network of pages that spread fake news and Russian propaganda and promoted pro-Russian politicians in Poland for more than three years. It happened as a result of independent investigations carried out by a Polish investigative portal OKO.press and an international non-governmental organisation Avaaz, the results of which were submitted to Facebook. According to OKO.press estimates, the fanpage network had an audience of up to 4.5 million Poles.

Initially, they were apolitical pages which brought together eg. Polish fans of football (such as “Real Madrid in my heart”), sports shoes (“Air Max’s”) or funny memes (“Tag someone”), and then shared links to politically involved websites. Their administrators repeatedly changed the pages’ names and incorporated them into others to artificially increase their fan base. What is more, the pages were administered from fake accounts. They were removed because all those practices violated Facebook’s terms and conditions by misleading its users.

A fanpage network operating in several European and Asian countries controlled by people linked with the Russian information agency Sputnik News, which was closed down in January, worked in the same way. So did pages supporting right-wing politicians which were removed by Facebook in Spain and Italy a couple of days ago.

The Polish network promoted three pro-Russian politicians and websites connected with them: Adam Andruszkiewicz, Janusz Korwin-Mikke and Leszek Miller.

Adam Andruszkiewicz is a former leader of a nationalist organization Młodzież Wszechpolska (All-Polish Youth), and now the Secretary of State in the Ministry of Digitization which is in charge of governmental cooperation with internet giants such as Facebook.

Janusz Korwin-Mikke is a candidate for the European Parliament from the list of Konfederacja (Confederation), a far-right coalition of nationalists, anti-abortionists and anti-vaxxers.

Leszek Miller is a former member of the leadership of the communist Polish United Workers’ Party, a former Prime Minister and now a candidate for the European Parliament from the list of Koalicja Europejska, the main opposition force in Poland.

The websites that promoted them, and which they advertised created aversion to the United States., NATO and Ukraine, combined with admiration for Russia and a fear of World War III, supposedly imminent.

For instance, a website started by Krzysztof Tenerowicz, a close associate of Andruszkiewicz, the Deputy Minister of digitization, portrayed Putin as a “superhuman” and Ukrainians as drunks and criminals. Another website Inna Polityka, headed by Jacek Podgórski, a former chief advisor to Leszek Miller, the former Prime Minister, accentuated the messages of the Russian propaganda, including those about the assassination of Sergei Skripal and the chemical attack in Syria and a retaliatory action of the western coalition.

The network also shared links to several right-wing sites, in liaison with their editors. In that way, it won popularity and money for the website of a pro-government television Telewizja Republika and the website of Najwyższy Czas, a weekly started by Korwin-Mikke.

OKO.press has established that the fanpage network was created by a “hater of Ukraine and the European Union”, a mysterious businessman Konrad Piotrowski, who had previously worked with an anti-Ukrainian website spreading Russian propaganda – kresy.pl.

He had also worked with Konrad Rękas, the deputy head of the pro-Kremlin party Zmiana (Change). Its leader Mateusz Piskorski is accused of spying for Russia and China. On 20 May, he was released from detention on a bail of 200,000 zlotys (46,422 euros). In his first interview for a Russian website eadaily.com, he thanked, among other people, Janusz Korwin-Mikke, one of the politicians supported by the fanpage network.