Reuers Digital News Report 2016 does not include Slovakia. However, if we compare results for Hungary and the Czech Republic (an average of which usually fits historically well for Slovakia, with Slovak indicators slightly more similar to Hungary than the Czech Republic), then we can see that 57 percent of the users in Hungary and 51 percent of under-35 users in the Czech Republic access FB for news on a weekly basis. We can assume that data for Slovakia would be somewhere in between these numbers. Indeed, Special Eurobarometer, 2015 has suggested that social media were followed by 54% Slovaks. Moreover, GfK Research from May 2016 provided evidence that FB was used by 68 % at least once a month, while it was used daily by 45%. YouTube was daily watched by 21% and on monthly basis by 63%.
The media that were most “liked” on FB include: music radio Europa 2 (590,000), tabloid newspaper Nový Čas (450,000), traffic radio Express (440,000), tabloid news portal Topky.sk (360,000), For comparison, TV Markíza had 340,000 likes, and TV JOJ had 313,000 likes in late 2016 (Poláš, 2017). FB indeed seems to be new and major tool for promotion of news and articles in general (and thus, indirectly, popularity of a medium), For example, Denník N was able to utilise speedy upload of some of its articles on FB that it raised some questions about manipulation of online readership statistics.
Although traditional media, especially television and radio broadcast are still the most popular media and although conspiratory webs such as Hlavnespravy.sk, Parlamentnelisty.sk, Medzicas.sk, Slobodnyvysielac.sk, Zemavek.sk have rather narrow focus of topics they report about, their success among their readers is precisely in their narrow focus of topics. These topics are usually rather politically sensitive and controversial ones. There is, for example, pro-Russian web portal Hlavnespravy.sk with estimated rather high readership.
In total, there are dozens and dozens of web platforms in the Czech and Slovak languages that publish controversial political content. The project Konspiratori.sk has assessed and compiled most of them. Although there may be partially justified criticism of the used methodology (Fábry, 2016), there is little doubt that there are indeed quite often “alternative” worldviews or unreliable data presented.
The top Slovak language “alternative” web portal is Protiprudu.org (9.7 negative points out of 10). Perhaps ironically, this web portal has published an article on 50 types of propaganda. Then there are many Czech language “alternative” web portals. Among Slovak language “alternative” portals, at rank 22 (9.1 points) there is Nemesis.sk as well as (rank 23, points 9.1) there is Necenzurovane.net. This last one is an interesting web portal since it offers translation of its text by Google Translator in 12 languages, including into Hebrew. Moreover, it offers statistical data (returning visits around 300 a day, new visits around 150-200 a day in late November 2016). This suggest really very microscopic sample of interested readers.
In line with the general discussion in many other EU member states, the Ministry of Interior also believes that biased information is being disseminated on purpose. This biased or clearly misleading information is supposed to destabilise the state and its foreign policy. Obviously, alternative websites seem to be the key suspects. As we will see, there is some truth in this claim.
However, similar pro-Russian and conspiratory messages can occasionally be found in long-established biweeklies such as Literárny týždenník or monthlies such as Extra plus.
Tóth (2016a) did a software-assisted analysis of FB fanpages (covering mid August – September 20, 2016) of selected alternative webportals – Hlavnespravy.sk (rank 56, 7.8 negative points), Parlamentnelisty.sk (rank 74, 6.4 negative points), Slobodnyvysielac.sk (not listed). Tóth’s analyses have brought the following results. The discussions on the fan page of Hlavnespravy.sk could be divided into two categories. The first group of discussants was mostly interested in foreign policy (especially the conflict between USA and Russia). The second key topic of discussion is the search for truth. This line of discussion is connected with the first group with links on the role of the EU in this process.
At the fanpage of Parlamentnelisty.sk the truth was also a key topic. Moreover, foreign policy is also of interest, this time focused on the EU and immigration. Finally, the fanpage of Slobodnyvysielac.sk is more similar to Hlavnespravy.sk. In addition, discussion here concerns EU and Turkey relationships, as well as propaganda, and George Soros.
The use of social networks by politicians may sometimes backfire. This happened to Andrej Danko, speaker of the Slovak Parliament and chairman of Slovak National Party in January 2017. Danko and some other top politicians had been promoted in their military careers (related to the past compulsory military service) by separate acts issued by two different ministers of defence in 2016. When this was revealed, in January 2017, this promotion was seen by and large both by the media and many commentators at social networks as unfair and absurd. It was seen as absurd since there was no special reason for that promotion, although it is true that in the past, during compulsory military service, this was standard approach in order to expand ranks of reserve officers. However, this time this was not the case. The official explanation given by the minister of defence (a nominee of the Slovak National Party), stated that Danko received this high military rank for his active support of the modernisation of the army and his help during the introduction of short-term voluntary military service (active military reserves). One could argue that for such cooperation some form of lesser military honour could be sufficient. For example, a Decree of the Minister of Defense (ÚLP-14-35/2015-OdL) would allow to award a Military Cross – Memorial Cross of the Head of the General Staff for such successful cooperation. Others pointed later on that even another internal directive of the ministry was not followed (Šnídl, 2017). The promotion was seen even as absurdly excessive - Danko was promoted eight ranks, from corporal to captain. In any case, this was initially believed to be a legal act. Moreover, Peter Gajdoš, the minister of defence, explained six days later the reason why this promotion was not made publicly, as follows: “because I had decided so”. The reaction by the media and especially among social networks was rather extensive and mostly negative. The Slovak National Party and Andrej Danko´s webpages on Facebook had to be blocked by both SNP and Danko himself for some time, to stop the flood of public criticism and sometimes even hate speech. Ironically, Danko had provoked this public reaction by kissing his military insignia after initial media criticism at a public conference. In fact, it appears that an excessively emotional act – kissing of military insignia – has caused all the scandal and discussions on social networks. Moreover, Danko encouraged the public to comment on this issue on his FB status. This again backfired, when even the wife of a serving military officer sharply criticised Danko. Obviously, for some time even some fake pages with Andrej Danko appeared on FB. Later on, the tabloid newspaper Nový Čas encouraged readers to contribute to making fun of Danko by a call to send their own photos with military insignia (published in large size in the paper). In short, the scandal that had began by printed media reporting, was widespread by television broadcast, expanded into social media as a result of excessive emotional public conference held by the main (as it turned out, negative) hero and was further negatively promoted by printed media again. Finally, the SNS issued a statement in which it declared a different use of social media – only for informing the public but not for public discussion.