Stop economic #fakenews
The coronavirus pandemic has a number of negative consequences for us. We fear for our health, we live far away from others in isolation, but also – as a result of an unprecedented economic crisis – we are concerned about our jobs and our income. In this situation it is particularly dangerous and harmful to transmit imaginary or manipulative information in order to intimidate the public and cause destabilisation. Meanwhile, we are being attacked every day by “fake news”. Unfortunately, no matter how absurd the information is sometimes, it can spread rapidly, often with fatal consequences.
In the last month, an example of such “fake news” was the information about the alleged closure of Warsaw, which was also hyped up by social media, heated by information “from certain sources”. This may have caused panic in the shops and it may have been calculated, but fortunately it failed.
But I think that the other “fake news” that has been circulating in different ways for several weeks now is more dangerous, and I felt it indirectly myself during Christmas this year. This is about the false information that comes out every few days that our savings in the banks are not safe or that the Government will grab them. Three weeks ago, one article about closing several branches of one of the banks was enough, combined with a discussion online about whether someone would not grab our deposits, to cause queues at the ATMs for three days. Of course, all this information was untrue, and after just a few days customers were returning to the banks with their money, but it is extremely irresponsible to create such an economic and social panic.
A few years ago, while working at PKO Bank Polski, I was responsible for our bank in Ukraine, among other things. I have watched how the hybrid war is being waged there, including through disinformation activities on the net and on social media, because the bank was also attacked. A variety of information was invented, from the loss of the bank's solvency, through alleged tax fraud, to fictitious information about the withdrawal from the Ukrainian market. These actions had one objective: to destabilise the banking sector, which is the bloodstream of the economy and, in the case of our bank, to take it over. The mechanism has always been very simple. One of the paid-for portals or social media accounts was giving “fake news”, and then a troll farm, paid-for “influencers” or simply useful idiots, were spreading false information. PKO Bank Polski was able to deal with this, and for several years the Ukrainian bank has had record results. However, the destabilisation has largely succeeded because, since the time of the Maidan, several dozen banks have collapsed in Ukraine and the economy is constantly in crisis. Unfortunately, the same methods can now be seen in Poland on the occasion of the coronavirus crisis, but disinformation cannot be allowed.
During the Christmas period, I was involved in this type of disinformation by manipulation of my statement from one of the interviews. Classic “fake news” was created and information that had absolutely nothing to do with the content of my interview was disseminated. I have been observing this closely, because it is probably rare to see such a clear-cut case of manipulation of public opinion through economic “fake news”, and this mechanism can be observed step by step.
That is how “fake news” is created!
Last Thursday, I had one of the many interviews now devoted to the Financial Shield from the Polish Development Fund, which is a programme of financial support for entrepreneurs and employees in connection with the coronavirus crisis. To finance the PFR programme, it will issue bonds on the market worth PLN 100 billion. The journalist asked whether it is not possible to offer Poles who save in banks a favourable interest rate, because the current interest rate on deposits is at a very low level, and PLN 900 billion of deposits are accumulated there. I replied truthfully that we are also thinking about issuing such bonds, and that this could potentially be an attractive form of savings collection for Poles. In other words, a normal conversation about the idea of offering Poles attractively priced bonds from the Polish Development Fund in order to mobilise resources to combat the economic consequences of the coronavirus. This is practically the same as investing in State Treasury bonds. It seems simple and not controversial.
And then suddenly, on Christmas Sunday, “fake news” is created. Within a few days, someone analysed the statement and concluded that it was suitable for disinformation. It turns out that this is not a plan to issue bonds by the PFR and support the economy, but a plan to steal Poles' savings.
- It starts on Twitter by a certain Andy Letkiewicz, who states that “Comrade Paweł Borys ... has barked 'we are thinking about it'”. Are the PiS thieves considering tearing down the money from the private accounts of Poles.” It is simple hate speech, but the “fake news” goes further.
- A moment later, on Twitter, a man named T Stanisławski, or FanTomas Szary, continues and writes: “My wife kept telling me that the mafia will get to our savings! I did not believe it!”
- Then Waldemar Kuczyński continues with a comment: “Attention! They are all about grabbing people's savings. The guest does not talk about normal bonds, not compulsory ones, and there are cases of people's money being looted, such as the Polish People's Republic's National Loan for the Development of Polish Forces. Feel the Spirit!”
- At the same time, the “news24” portal anonymously gives information on the front page with a note: “If the government has a plan to get to its nation's savings, then this is a very serious scandal. It took about 30 minutes on a festive evening for there to be a scandal and a plan to steal the savings from the accounts of Polish women and Poles who live on social media.
- At the same time, the “przekazdnia” portal provides the following information: “Urgent. President Kaczyński plans to seize citizens' savings in order to save the budget.” The message of the day is further provided by the chief economist of the Polish Business Roundtable, Janusz Jankowiak, on LinkedIn. So it looks serious now.
- But Monday gets more interesting. Deputy Artur Dziambor from KORWIN writes on social media in reference to the news24: “The banks will open tomorrow. It is worth considering taking out your savings and putting them, I don’t know, in your backyard. Anyway, somewhere where the government can’t get them.” In economic terms, it was incitement to murder and, after a wave of criticism, the Deputy explains that it was a joke. Sure!
- Then the journalist Rafał Badowski's “natemat” portal does not disappoint either, you can see that he “smelt blood” and publishes a text titled ominously: “Do you have savings in the bank? The Head of the PFR revealed what the Government can do” and asked the question: “Should all those who have accumulated savings in the banks start to be afraid.”
- The topic is very clickable, so Rafał Badowski continues it and gets the chief economist of the Polish Business Roundtable, Janusz Jankowiak, who manipulates and says that my words “...about Poles' savings in banks are extremely irresponsible.” He goes on to say that “Words about the fact that the government can grab the savings of Poles have caused a great deal of a stir.” Then Janusz Jankowiak, who understands what this is all about, claims that there would be nothing wrong with the retail bonds issued by the PFR.
I contacted Janusz Jankowiak, who told me that he did not know my source statement, but was based on “przekazdnia”. He asked me to send him what I actually said. But the comments in the media have already spread.
This text is not about the manipulation of my speech, because the subject is absurd. Of course, none of the portals asked me what was going on if the statement was inaccurate. I would also like to thank the many people who have straightened this out and pointed to manipulations. I also received a lot of supportive comments. But this is just one example among many, and the real problem is how easy it is to create absolutely deliberately and completely “fake news” in order to mislead the public.
It must therefore be made clear. The Polish banking sector is one of the strongest in the world. It has a high level of liquidity and capital at a level that most European countries can envy us. Our savings are safe there and guaranteed by the State. Thus, the state not only does not plan any alleged "jump" on savings, but also gives them complete safety. Although there are weaker financial institutions and it is worth paying attention to where we put our money, we can absolutely feel safe.
And most importantly, let us read the information carefully, don’t be manipulated and misled, and don’t listen to “fake news”! Stop “fake news”!