Opinion makers

The US presidential elections suggested that in addition to deeper social factors, there is an increasingly important role of social networks in news consumption and public opinion shaping. This is increasingly present in Slovakia too – especially in case of various protest parties and movements.

The GLOBSEC 2016 study indicates that 17 percent of respondents in Slovakia believe more in “alternative“ media (this result is similar to Hungary but shows better results than in the Czech Republic). However, this ratio is much higher among young people – 29 percent. Fortunately, magazines published by high school and university students do not seem to show any signs of conspiratory content.

Analytically, the credibility of social media can be seen from three perspectives: as media credibility, source credibility and content credibility. Buzová (2014) compiled some international research that suggests that social media users trust information coming from their online friends, but, allegedly, they trust information from other sources less. In such cases the online users utilise their cognitive abilities to differentiate message importance and to define message credibility. However, among some groups of voters and supporters, eg among right-wing nationalists such as those who are supporters and voters of Kotleba – People's Party Our Slovakia (previously ĽSNS, now KĽSNS), 53 percent of those who voted for this party trusted alternative media (includes also print media) more than the traditional media. These media (eg Hlavnespravy.sk or Slobodnyvysielac.sk or Lifenews.sk) prefer anti-system (protest or populist) politicians such as Kotleba and his party (Šnídl, 2016 a,b). Indeed, this party KĽSNS had more than 78,000 likes and its leader, Marián Kotleba, had more than 73,000 likes on FB in November 2016. This suggests a relatively high importance of online communication for this party and its leader. Indeed, KĽSNS party fanpage also had the most frequent use of an old greeting used during WWII in Slovakia (Tóth, 2016b).

However, the most frequent discussions at fanpages of key political parties one could find were OĽANO, then at a distance were Sme rodina and SaS (Tóth, 2016).

The top opinion-maker of social media in Slovakia is actually a youtuber nicknamed Gogo. His GoGoManTV is popular among Youtube users (1.4 million followers), but also on Instagram (482,000) and FB (186,000). There are additional seven youtubers who have more than 100,000 followers. For example, Matej Slážanský a.k.a. Selassie runs vlog Menameselassie with more than 438,000 followers as of November 2016. FB is more dominated by typical local celebrities such as rap singer Rytmus (273,000 likes), rap singer Majk Spirit (265,000), radio and television entertainers Junior and Marcel (261,000), actor and showman Latinák (238,000), radio and television entertainers Adela and Sajfa (206,000), cyclist Sagan (196,000), tennis player Cibulková (194k,000, pop singer Dara Rolins (197,000).

Out of these celebrities, the most influential is probably Adela (Banášová). She is present in radio (as host of entertaining and general regular radio talk shows), television (as moderator of various shows but also has her own late night TV show in a news TV TA3). Moreover, she is among columnists of Hospodárske noviny. She is one of those who did not find as a problematic conspiratory magazine and web portal Zem a Vek (The Earth and Age). The video in which she talked about this magazine in a positive light had around one million views (700,000 FB + 300,000 YouTube).

Among politicians and political parties, it is, perhaps surprisingly, the President Andrej Kiska who is a dominant player on the Internet. For those unfamiliar with Slovak politics, it should be explained that Andrej Kiska became president as a candidate with no previous experience in politics. The President successfully used live streaming from one of his press conferences via FB. Kiska also had established his blog on the website of newspaper Sme in June 2012, before he became President. Since then he published 41 blogs with average readership of 13,062 (November 2016). However, the last entry is from February 2014. Apparently, since June 2014 Kiska uses Twitter (and FB) instead of his blog. Since then, he made 75 tweets and has over 60,000 followers. Clearly, the President uses FB more frequently. There he publishes news almost on a daily basis, sometimes even twice a day. A rather unusual cooperation among the most popular youtuber and the President should also be mentioned. The President participated to a YouTube presentation prepared by the above-mentioned Gogo youtuber in late 2016.

In contrast, the Prime Minister Robert Fico used Twitter less often, with some 67 tweets and 254 followers since November 2009 according to data from November/December 2016 (https://twitter.com/fico2014). Robert Fico used Twitter to pointing to his message at YouTube. This seems to be a clever strategy since otherwise there are plenty of videos that make fun of the prime minister on YouTube. It should be mentioned that there were some fake Twitter accounts of Robert Fico too. Robert Fico uses FB too. He joined FB in 2013 and had some 27,000 followers in late 2016. For example, in reaction to an article published by tabloid newspaper Plus Jeden Deň in early December 2016, the prime minister accused the media of lying and then put emphasis on the hidden agenda of Penta’s owner in his short video. The PM explicitly mentioned in his video commentary put on FB on January 8, 2017 that he intends to use direct communication with people instead of the standard media.

It should be explained here that it is actually typical that politicians in Slovakia established their blogs at websites of newspapers and weeklies even when they do not like them (such as Prime Minister Fico’s blog on Sme’s website). Robert Fico has published 23 contributions on his blog with some 36,000 average readership since April 2011. Ironically, one of his latest blogs was a criticism of host newspaper Sme from July 2016 with headline “Newspaper Sme causes damage to its readers“). However, the PM publishes his opinions on the blog of business newspaper Hospodárske noviny and on the website of the Government too.

In fact, there are three or four key media that host the majority of blogs of the most important politicians: Sme, Trend, Hospodárske noviny and Denník N. For example, the website of newspaper Sme hosts blogs by Andrej Danko, Speaker of the Parliament and Chairman of SNS (36 blogs since July 2011, last blog February 19, 2015, average readership 615), the blog of Béla Bugár, Chairperson of political party Most-Híd (50 blogs since May 2011, last blog entry November 11, 2016, average readership 1,645). For example, the website of newspaper Hospodárske noviny (Blogy.hnonline.sk) presents ideas of Jozef Mihál (SaS party, 24 blogs, 8,145 average readers since February 2016), Milan Kňažko (various right-wing parties), Renára Zmajkovičová (Smer-SD, 37 blogs, 1,059 average readers since May 2014), Alojz Hlina, Chairperson of KDH political party (with just one blog entry in November 2014). One can find here also Igor Matovič, leader of OĽANO movement (last entry October 2012) as well as Miloslav Lajčák, Minister for Foreign and European Affairs (last entry April 2010). For example, the website of weekly Trend hosts blogs of Eugen Jurzyca (SaS), Martin Klus (SaS) and some others, especially various think tanks with focus on economy and reforms. Interestingly, the website of newspaper Pravda hosts blogs but these are often registered under nicknames.

Another politician that works with FB rather frequently is Boris Kollár, MP (Sme rodina – We are family) (Kern, 2016). Kollár was the most active national politician on FB according to TASR statistics in November 2016. However, many of his contributions and especially some fans were seen as populist, xenophobic and even racist (see Benčík, 2017). The first most active Slovak politician was Ivan Štefanec, MEP, with some 8,500 likes. Kollár himself had almost 89,000 likes on FB, while his political party just under 60,000 likes in November 2016. However, Freedom and Solidarity Party (SaS) had more than 121,410 likes in November 2016, thus being the most “liked“ Slovak political party on FB. This can be explained by its innovative and partly liberal (and rather conservative views in some areas such as immigration) views, more popular among younger people. OĽANO (Common People and Independent Personalities) had almost 46,000 likes, Smer-SD (the strongest party in Parliament) had more than 31,00 likes, Slovak National Party had more than 30,000 likes, Most-Híd less than 10,000 likes and out of the parliament KDH - Christian Democratic Movement less than 10,000 likes.

Although there were occasional problems with FB’s liberal policies ("the world is diverse“ - this approach began to change in early 2017), local prosecutor general urged people to report hate and racist speech. There are reports when courts sued local people for their hate speech using online social media. Finally, perhaps it should be noted that there are opinion-makers that are behind the scene: media owners, editors-in-chief, etc (see list of 30 the most influential ones in Nový Čas víkend, supplement, 4/2017, p.4-14).