Hoaxes and conspiracy theories that in the past only interested a narrow community of readers, have become a tool of political propaganda and hybrid war. Spreading “alternative facts” can change public opinion and influence election results.
In its new Hoax project, the Sme daily has therefore decided to track down hoaxes, lies, and fake news that are being spread in the public space, explain them and confront them with facts. The Sme daily is published by Petit Press, the majority owner of The Slovak Spectator.
The project has its own website where articles can be found in which the daily sums up the hoaxes and confronts them with facts and elementary logic. The aim is not only to prove the fake nature of the hoaxes but also to promote the basic tools of critical thinking like unveiling missteps in logic and cognitive mistakes.
“Lies spread in the virtual world dangerously fast today and they have a real impact on the lives of people,” Sme daily Editor-in-Chief Beata Balogová said. “They evoke anger and lead to bad decisions. Today our work does not end at telling the story and bringing facts.”
Balogová believes it is the role of responsible media to bust these lies and set them in contrast with provable facts.
“Because the devotion to truth is what will divide us from the conspiracy webs, manipulators, and hoaxers in the future,” Balogová said.
Hoaxes and fake news are usually part of war or hybrid conflicts. Many hoaxes exist, for example, about the war in Donbass, Ukraine. For instance, several mutually contradicting explanations appeared in connection with the investigation of the downed civilian airplane MH-17.
Another known hoax is the alleged existence of a mysterious cure for cancer that the entire medical community has been keeping secret from people. In Slovakia, hoaxes about Roma are particularly successful - like the claim that Roma who live on social allowances get more money from the state than working people can ever earn.
Readers who encounter a hoax are invited to share it with the daily via a special e-mail address email@example.com.