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Wyborcza: the PiS government used the NASK team to fight disinformation for party purposes

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Mateusz Morawiecki’s government used a team to fight disinformation at the state NASK institute to research what Poles think about PiS before the elections – reports “Gazeta Wyborcza”. As the daily writes, at the request of the Prime Minister’s office, it was checked, among others, what Internet users write about Mateusz Morawiecki’s daughter, whom the then Prime Minister sent to a private school, what they think about the visa scandal at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, how they react to rising apartment prices, and what is written in the media social media about PiS’s credibility. – It is a sick situation when the system that is supposed to defend the state is used to defend and maintain power – Deputy Prime Minister Krzysztof Gawkowski told “GW”.

Scientific and Academic Computer Network (NASK) is a state research institute dealing with Internet security. In 2022, the Department for Counteracting Disinformation was established there, which – according to information on the NASK website – collects and analyzes “examples of attempts to influence social moods in Poland”. DPD was supposed to deal mainly with disinformation related to war in UkraineUkrainians in Poland or the pandemic COVID-19. According to Gazeta Wyborcza, nearly PLN 19 million was allocated for its operation over a year and a half.

The disinformation team investigated “topics important to PiS”

“Wyborcza.biz journalists obtained reports published in August, September and October 2023, i.e. just before the elections. They determined that at that time the reports almost did not focus on disinformation on the Polish network, but on topics important to the PiS government. “Only a few documents contain topics that can be used to fight disinformation. These include, for example, the weakening of the Polish army by transferring weapons to Ukraine, alleged ideas to restore general mobilization after the elections, or conspiracy theories. However, they are absolute exceptions,” he writes. “Wyborcza”.

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So what was the government interested in? Mateusz Morawiecki? First of all, Poles think about the events concerning the government described in the media – according to the findings of “GW”.

“The Law and Justice Party, which bases its election campaign on security, is losing its credibility due to changes in the military command,” was the thesis of one of the topics commissioned for analysis. “The government loan of 2 percent is driving housing prices to record levels,” said a fragment of another report prepared by DPD, summarizing what social media users are saying about rising housing prices. “The Law and Justice Party is not credible. Tax policy during the PiS government, compared to previous election promises, negatively verifies the party’s credibility,” concluded the disinformation team, examining the political mood among Internet users.

The daily reports that on July 14, 2023, the team appointed to deal with disinformation received the topic of “a raise for commission members in the Ministry of Health” to analyze. As the newspaper reminds, a day earlier Wirtualna Polska published the article “The government takes care of its own people. There are going to be raises for members of the Ministry of Health committees.” On July 20 last year, an investigation into the topic “Poland’s shares in financial institutions controlled by Russia” was commissioned. As “Wyborcza” writes, on the same day at 3 a.m. “Rzeczpospolita” published the article “PLN 237 million in Vladimir Putin’s banks. Polish money trapped in Russia.”

The Department for Counteracting Disinformation also checked what Poles were saying on the Internet about Mateusz Morawiecki’s daughter, whom he sent to a private school.

“GW” emphasizes that most of the topics dealt with by the Department for Counteracting Disinformation at the request of the Prime Minister’s Office “had virtually no disinformation potential.” “Wyborcza” mentions here: electronic invoices, local government appeal boards, the criteria for awarding a fourteenth grade, doctors leaving Poland, and CIT settlement.

Mateusz Morawiecki Leszek Szymański/PAP

What Poles think about PiS

As “Wyborcza” found out just before elections parliamentary DPD was tasked with checking what Poles think about PIS. “Not about the Polish government or the United Right government, but about the Law and Justice party. Other groups were not monitored,” the daily notes.

“GW” writes that the test results were “only negative.” They showed that PiS was losing credibility in the eyes of Poles.

“According to our information, every day since the beginning of 2023, DPD has prepared a report on the analyzes performed. The first part of the reports presented topics that were disinformation or had the potential to be used in this way. These are topics that DPD raised on its own on based on their growing popularity. In the documents obtained by Wyborcza.biz, these topics are in the minority, and there are days when they do not appear at all with the note that “the monitoring did not reveal any new threads of a disinformation nature. The vast majority of reports are topics commissioned by the Chancellery of the Prime Minister. There were from several to a dozen of them a day and most of them related to the current activities of the government and ministries,” writes “Wyborcza”.

“Like in the party youth wing”

Irregularities in the operation of DPD were detected as part of an inspection ordered by the new management of the Ministry of Digitization.

– I felt like I was in the party youth wing. A dozen or so young people, some associated with PiS, and the topics they dealt with had nothing to do with disinformation, in my opinion. After a few months, I asked for a transfer – one of the DPD employees at NASK, who wished to remain anonymous, said in an interview with “GW”.

According to information from “Wyborcza”, the topics for DPD analysis were commissioned by the Secretary of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, Stanisław Żaryn, who was the government’s plenipotentiary for information space security in 2022-23. Żaryn denied ever ordering political or party topics for analysis – writes “GW”.

Former government spokesman Piotr Muller said that “making an accusation of the fact that the monitoring includes slogans about the Law and Justice government or specific ministers is absurd.” “I would like to clearly add that no reports were commissioned for current party activities, but only for public administration activities,” he emphasized in an e-mail to “Wyborcza”. He added that “activities in the field of combating disinformation cover a wide spectrum of topics, such as those related to state security, but also topics related to the current activities of the government – i.e. regarding emerging legal acts, implemented and announced government programs, current government activities, economic crises.” e.t.c.”

“It’s a sick situation”

NASK told “Wyborcza” that the ongoing audit also identified other problems, including the rapidly deteriorating financial results of the Institute related to a significant increase in employment, employing people without clearly defined tasks and competences, lack of proper supervision over NASK-PIB’s assets, or conducting projects without clearly defined goals and implementation schedule.

– As part of the audits commissioned by the Ministry of Digital Affairs, we discovered that activities intended to fight disinformation were used by the PiS government to fight the elections against the then opposition – said the Deputy Prime Minister. Krzysztof Gawkowski. – It is a sick situation when the system that is supposed to defend the state is used to defend and maintain power. People who designed such illegal activities will be held accountable, and the system will be redesigned so that no one uses it for political purposes anymore, but defends the interests of the state, he announced.

Main photo source: Szymon Pulcyn/PAP

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