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October 25, 2021

According to the most recent Slovak census from 2011, 450,122 people declared their affiliation to the Hungarian nationality, which represents more than 8% of Slovakia's population. This number also means that the group is the second largest Hungarian minority residing outside the borders of Hungary, and it is a strong and well-organized community.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a perfect setting for spreading malign and deliberate misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda from various hostile actors. Public trust in state institutions and the government is low – research done by the Easter European Studies Center in 2020 shows that only 24% of the Lithuanian population trust the parliament, 43% trust the government of Lithuania, and only 8% – the political parties. The vaccination process is especially fragile and sensitive to any external or internal meddling. These factors suggest that Lithuania could be potentially targeted by various disinformation and propaganda campaigns to lower the Lithuanian population’s motivation and trust in the vaccination process. One of the main sources of information for Lithuanians is social media; as information on such platforms can spread rapidly and there is little oversight, this research explores the potential for manipulating public opinion.

The past two months we have partnered with the International Republican Institute’s Beacon Project to study the vaccine conversations on Facebook in Romania (RO) and Moldova in 2021, as well as to gain insights into Russian and Chinese narratives on this topic. In this final report we compare the data gathered to date and draw a set of conclusions and recommendations.

The COVID-19 pandemic in Hungary resulted in an unprecedented amount of health-related disinformation with various narratives touching upon issues far beyond public health. As anti-vax sentiments gained ground, mainstream narratives were supplemented by that of not only “professional” anti-vaxxers but far right/pro-Kremlin fringe media, as well.