Non-Military Security

Communicating Defence in Slovakia and the Czech Republic: Mapping Actors and Narratives online

Adapt Institute

We would like to present to you the newest research study for the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence. This research was prepared and created in cooperation with Gerulata Technologies and European Values Center for Security Policy.

This research study aims to identify the most successful communicators across the Slovak information space and Czech information space on defence-related themes and to provide a detailed analysis of their communication, with a special focus on geopolitical sentiment, topics and narratives.

The present work seeks to answer the following research questions:

  • Who are the most successful communicators in Slovak information space and Czech information space on topics related to defence?
  • What narratives can be identified in their communication about defence-related themes?
  • What geopolitical sentiments can be identified in their communication?

We wanted to understand how are the defence topics communicated in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Due to the close historical, cultural, linguistic and political relations between both nations, important similarities and differences can be described. The authors anticipate that the StratCom communities in both countries, including the Slovak and Czech Ministries of Defence and Armed Forces, may find this report useful and actionable as they work and collaborate.

From a broader NATO perspective, the report should help to address a knowledge gap regarding a crucial but infrequently discussed section of NATO’s Eastern flank.

>>> You can find our research paper online on the NATO StratCom Website or download it here via link Communicating Defence in Slovakia and the Czech Republic: Mapping Actors and Narratives online

In the report, we used qualitative and quantitative approaches to assess the communication about defence themes and topics on social media in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. With software developed by Gerulata Technologies, we analysed collected data from Facebook, Telegram and YouTube. Our dataset spans 12 months: from August 1, 2021, to July 30, 2022.

We queried the social media with a set of defence-related keywords and annotated the content by actor, topic and geopolitical sentiment. The dataset includes 10,404 individual posts (including text, pictures and videos; divided into Slovak language content (5213 posts) and Czech language content (5191 posts). The data was ordered by the number of interactions in descending order. This approach helped us to sort the content by its virality and audience engagement, and allowed us to filter only the most relevant posts.

Certain key findings of the report

Slovakia has a much larger number of anti-Western actors communicating defence themes than the Czech Republic. There is a significantly higher penetration of anti-Western and pro-Russian narratives in Slovakia than in the Czech Republic.

Slovak anti-Western actors are the best-performing group in our study. They consistently gain significantly more reactions, shares and comments than pro-Western actors in Slovakia or any actor in the Czech Republic.

That being said raises a critical issue to be examined and tackled.

When it comes to the “adversaries”, the Czech information space is predominantly negative towards Russia as it appeared in approximately one-fifth of cases. Surveys of relevant agencies and institutions show that anti-Russian and pro-Western geopolitical sentiment has persisted within the Czech population since the spring. On the contrary, the long-term anti-Western and anti-NATO orientation of the Slovak population was most strongly represented in the anti-Western geopolitical sentiment, identified in 15% of posts.

The Slovak infosphere is much more clustered than the Czech infosphere. This is because of the stronger anti-Western leaning of Slovakia and because Slovak actors are more effective in communicating defence themes than their Czech counterparts.

NATO was a significantly bigger topic in Slovakia than in the Czech Republic. While in the Slovak dataset there were almost 600 posts concerning NATO, there were less than 400 in the Czech Republic. Nevertheless, both countries had slightly prevailing negative geopolitical sentiment towards NATO.

Following Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, the war dominated public discourse for most of 2022. Consequently, the majority of the content collected for this paper’s research concerned the war in Ukraine. Other prominent defence-related topics included military cooperation (training and weapons deliveries) and NATO, but even these topics were most often mentioned in the context of the war in Ukraine.

A notable portion of social media discourse strategically used narratives to persuade the audience that by helping Ukraine, their nations are being dragged into the conflict. Supplying weapons and generally aiding Ukraine was portrayed as a slippery slope towards war with Russia. These narratives were consistently employed since the beginning of the war as a call for appeasement with Russia.

Support for Ukraine translated into support for Ukrainian refugees. There was a visible disconnect between the pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian actors and their approach towards Ukrainian refugees. The former generally talked about the necessity of integrating Ukrainian displaced by war. The latter spread the narratives about the refugees as threatening the status quo.

Whataboutism was a widely spread STRATCOM tactic (and narrative) about the war in Ukraine in Slovakia. Whataboutism was used approximately twice as much in Slovakia than in the Czech Republic. One of the most present narratives was a manipulative criticism of NATO’s intervention in Yugoslavia, and more specifically, the bombardment of Belgrade (aggression of the West against Slavic brothers). Similarly employed, but less present, were cases of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. It seems rather clear that these narratives were trying to provoke anti-American geopolitical sentiments and pacifist worldviews in Slovak society. 

The Slovak information sphere was dominated by political actors, while mainstream media dominated the Czech Republic. This is perhaps the reason why the Czech Republic was not so seriously anti-Western and pro-Russian. Politicians on both sides of the anti/pro-Western divide received the most interactions, despite the fact that in the Czech Republic it is the mainstream media that has a greater share of content on the market. Political actors are thus the most effective communicators of defence-related topics in both countries.

An important observation is that there is a larger share of pro-Western influencers in the Czech Republic. While in Slovakia, pro-Western influencers in the online space practically did not exist.

Conclusion

After a detailed analysis of the data, we come to the conclusion that when it comes to fighting Anti-Western actors desktop exercises and simulations of various communication scenarios across institutions can be effective tools for building the necessary trust among stakeholders. If such techniques are not established inside the organisations involved, they should not hesitate to seek the support of international partners, including the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence or the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats. 

As narratives are usually repetitive, it should be possible to establish a database of debunks, proven fake news or hoaxes. Pre-prepared snippets of messaging can shorten reaction times effectively. StratCom professionals do not need to do all communication by themselves. If possible, they should use messages and products of like-minded actors, who are natural allies. The coordinated action of government communicators should be a good standard, but occasionally they may also want to leverage products from influencers and civil society actors. 

Whatever the source of information, great attention should be paid to the principle that all government communication, including reshared content, must remain correct and factual. Trust is the cornerstone of credible StratCom work.

>>> You can find our research paper online on the NATO StratCom Website or download it here via link Communicating Defence in Slovakia and the Czech Republic: Mapping Actors and Narratives online

Authors: 

Martin Brezina, Gerulata Technologies

Peter Dubóczi, Infosecurity.sk and Adapt Institute

Matej Kandrík, Adapt Institute

Veronika Krátka Špalková, European Values Centre for Security Policy 

Tomáš Kriššák, Gerulata Technologies

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