Disinformation and Propaganda as a Business: Mapping the Financial and Organisational Background of Actors on the Slovak Telegram

The study provides a insight into the operational background of the actors on the Slovak Telegram. The channels studied were characterised by diversifying sources of potential revenue. In terms of the tools used, donation options from fans and followers were predominant.

Telegram currently provides a haven for many actors typically spreading non-factual content, propaganda, hate speech or far-right messages. Network’s environment creates a fertile ground for the association and recruitment of new members of such oriented groups and the coordination of their practices. Telegram also opens up opportunities for these actors to acquire new sympathisers, including donors and subscribers to the content.

Therefore, in addition to content trends, we consider it crucial to actively monitor and record the use of profit-generating tools. Advertising revenues on the operated websites were not identified for most of the actors. However, the channels studied were characterised by diversifying sources of potential revenue.

In terms of the tools used, donation options from fans and followers were predominant – whether through account transfers, payment via cryptocurrencies or Telegram (donate) button, or by purchasing subscriptions on affiliate platforms. The examination of actors on Telegram also differed from previous research in that in many cases these were public channels of individuals, so-called ‚disinfluencers‘. This limited the scope for uncovering their background, as well as for obtaining data on potential profits.

Despite the limitations, the study provides a relatively broad insight into the operational background of the actors on the Slovak Telegram. It is a final publication of collaborative research of Prague Security Studies Institute (PSSI), Infosecurity.sk and Investigative Centre of Ján Kuciak (ICJK).

Key findings

  • Telegram considers the privacy and security of users‘ communications to be a key requirement, but it also provides protection for members of extremist groups, disinformers and scammers. Telegram environment in Slovakia is dominated by channels characterised by spreading disinformation and pro-Russian sentiment in communication.
  • The top 50 most successful actors on the Slovak Telegram according to interaction metrics (for the period between January 1, 2023 and December 1, 2023) are dominated by channels and groups (15 cases), alternative media (11), followed by politicians (10) and also profiles of individuals (8). In two cases, profiles of the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Slovakia (publishing in both Slovak and Russian) and in one case a political party appeared among the sources.

Telegram gives space to alternative media, politicians, and disinfluencers

  • The largest Slovak alternative media such as Zem a Vek, InfoVojna, Slovanské noviny are doing well on Telegram. Zem a Vek received up to 4.3 million interactions in the period under review. As the organisational and financial background of these sources has been described in the past, the case studies will focus on the alternative media Kulturblog and TV Slovan.
  • Among the most successful politicians, the majority are those associated with the far-right Republika party, but also with SMER – SSD, which is the only one to have an official Telegram channel. In terms of all monitored metrics (amount of published content, interactions, number of followers and views), the most successful member of SMER – SSD on Telegram is Ľuboš Blaha, who has been using Telegram as his main communication channel since his Facebook profile was blocked. Blaha is followed in the number of interactions by Milan Uhrík and Milan Mazurek.
  • A category of profiles, the so-called disinfluencers, represents persons who either promote false information themselves or amplify the content of other conspiracy or disinformation channels. In terms of interactions, the channels Mimi Šramová, Miro Del and Danny Kollar DKX topped the rankings for this group. The latter is the most followed channel in Slovakia, with almost 59 thousand users.

Civil associations and limited liability companies are popular to gain money

  • The study focuses on a more detailed examination of the organisational and financial background for nine selected telegram resources. Four sources, including Mimi Šramová, Judita Laššáková, Danny Kollar, and Pavel Forisch’s Bringing Hope channel, use coverage exclusively through a civic association (CA).
  • The research also revealed a link between Judita Laššáková and Danny Kollar, who solicit financial contributions from followers to the account number of the DIR-Publikum civic association. It was to have been set up in the past together with other persons. The analysis also showed that the dir-publikum.sk domain is registered to INFO VOJNA, o. z. This is Norbert Lichtner’s association, which represents the alternative media InfoVojna and Slobodný vysielač.
  • Coverage of activities exclusively through the limited liability company (LC) was identified in case of one actor. This is the alternative medium TV Slovan, whose company has consistently high revenues. The combination of CA and Ltd. was used by two sources at the time of the research: the alternative media Kulturblog linked to the Republika party and Miroslav Heredoš. Paradoxically, these are actors who loudly speak out against civil society.

The most used way of financing disinformers is donation

  • In terms of the tools used to generate profit, the sources surveyed were dominated by donation options from fans and followers. This tool was used by eight of the nine sources, with a variety of forms utilised.
  • Another option used was the monetisation of YouTube videos (seven actors). This was followed by raising 2% of the taxes for the operation of CA and the sale of goods from the online shop, which we identified consistently for three actors. Two of the monitored channels offered subscriptions to premium content and one of them had an advertisement placed on the website.
  • Overall, the highest number of profit-generating tools at the time of the analysis was applied by Kulturblog and an actor who operates on Telegram under the name Danny Kollar.

For more information, see the study below.

The report was published with the support of the Open Information Partnership and in cooperation with the Prague Security Studies Institute and the Investigative Centre of Ján Kuciak. The sole responsibility for the content rests with the authors.

The views and opinions expressed in this document do not represent the official position of the Open Information Partnership. The contents of this document are the sole responsibility of the authors.