How Misinformation Became a Profitable Business in Eastern Europe

Misinformation is a lucrative business in several eastern European countries, reliant on advertising revenue, and pulling in cash from a variety of other sources including government subsidies, crowdfunding, tax designations, donations and sales of merchandise, according to a new report by CEU’s Center for Media, Data and Society (CMDS) that dissects the business of misinformation in six Eastern European countries.

The misinformation landscape is dominated by mainstream media outlets in Serbia where small websites cannot compete with “misinformation giants.” In neighboring Bosnia & Herzegovina, mainstream media, mostly “anonymous, for-profit websites offering no true journalistic value,” are also the main sources of misinformation. The mainstream media in Hungary are also infamous for being propaganda and misinformation channels. They compete with large networks of misinformation websites operating independently. In Slovakia, misinformation websites are run by “multiple independent entities” whereas in Moldova, misinformation is spread through mainstream media and, distinctively, Russian misinformation websites.

Another main trend in the misinformation business is the fast recycling of URLs. However, the primary generator of traffic for most of the misinformation websites is Facebook where these websites’ community appears to remain stable.

The Business of Misinformation project, run by the Center for Media, Data and Society, set out in its first phase to map the misinformation business in six countries: Bosnia & Herzegovina, Hungary, Moldova, Romania, Serbia, and Slovakia. The goal was to identify the individuals and businesses that own local misinformation websites and their links to institutions, parties and other individuals.