Navigating the new age of disinformation: The evolving role of fact-checkers in Poland

Disinformation casts a wide net, infiltrating all aspects of society: from health and the environment to defence and politics… Amidst this landscape, several strategies can be explored to combat disinformation, with fact-checking standing out as a pivotal approach. But what is the reality of those who work every day to contribute to a healthier media environment? What hurdles do they face and how do they adapt to increasing disinformation challenges?

On February 16th 2024, the Media and Disinformation Nest of the College of Europe organized a visit to the studio of the Polish television TVN24, where such issues were addressed. Natolin students met with fact-checkers working in a special fact-checking service called Konkret24, to learn about the day-to-day work of fact-checkers and disinformation challenges in Poland. The service was created in 2018 as part of the largest information channel in Poland. Over the years and as the disinformation challenges grew in Poland, the team grew as well, reaching today an effective of seven journalists working every day to fight against disinformation in the Polish media landscape. It is also now part of the Central European Digital Media Observatory to work alongside other fact-checking services in Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland.

The evolution of priorities for fact-checkers

When Konkret24 was established in 2018, the patterns of disinformation were notably different, and identifying fake news was relatively straightforward. However, over time, this process has become increasingly intricate, largely due to global events and regional dynamics. The complexity further escalated with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, which resulted in a huge wave of fake news and conspiracy theories. A prominent example of this is the “plandemic” conspiracy theory, which has pushed myths and false narratives regarding the origins and transmission of COVID-19. In response, certain politicians and influential figures were giving even more credibility to such conspiracy theories.

COVID-19 “Infodemia”

Additionally, false claims circulated about vaccines, suggesting that governments aimed to control people and limit their fundamental rights by embedding microchips in vaccine shots. These fabricated stories have served to cause panic among people and eroded public trust in governments and institutions. Nowadays, this informational side-effect of the pandemic is also referred to as “Infodemia,” which has affected the world population no less than the virus itself.

During the aforementioned period, the primary focus of fact-checkers was on topics related to healthcare. Consequently, they often found it necessary to consult healthcare specialists or enlist them as fact-checkers. However, the landscape shifted dramatically with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24th 2022. The onset of war redirected priorities from healthcare to the military-political sphere, necessitating an adaptation by those combatting disinformation. Their core mission is to analyse social media to differentiate truth from falsehood amidst the sea of false information.

Wartime disinformation

As a result, COVID-19 related conspiracy theories have been replaced by new conspiracies aimed at discrediting the West, Ukraine, and actors associated with them. Notably, there have been speculations regarding Ukrainian refugees allegedly receiving disproportionate financial benefits and privileges compared to local populations in receiving countries. In this context, Polish people have emerged as a significant target audience, with attempts to divide and fracture Polish-Ukrainian alliance on the level of ordinary citizens.

One of the discernible effects of wartime on disinformation patterns is the proliferation of manipulated content, exemplified by the dissemination of the so-called doctored media. The latter implies the falsification of images. Such deliberate actions further complicate the efforts of those combatting disinformation. Hence, the practice of double fact-checking becomes essential for media outlets, encompassing both Ante-hoc verification to ensure accuracy prior to publication, and post-hoc verification to check any inaccuracies post-publication. In doing so, the objective is not only to combat the spread of disinformation but also to mitigate the unintentional propagation of misinformation.

Emerging disinformation challenges in Poland

In 2019, Konkret24 was awarded the Grand Press Digital Award for its innovative approaches and use of modern technologies in journalistic activities. It should be noted that they need to combat the anti-EU narratives in Poland which reflect both regional and domestic events. While in the early 2000s, “Euromyths” cantered around the Banana Shape, the trend has now shifted to the New Tax calculated by two young Polish guys. They claim that the EU is going to impose this New Tax if electric cars are not adopted. In reality, no such initiative exists at the EU level.

Disinformation as official doctrine of those in power: disinformation spread by Polish politicians/officials

Some politicians intentionally or inadvertently repeat and disseminate such narratives. This was especially evident during the previous government’s rule, when the Law & Justice (PiS) party was in power. In response, the Konkret24 team started the “Morawiecki Untruths” series in 2022, exposing the falsehoods of the prime minister. The #ObietniceMinus column was also created to discuss politicians’ unfulfilled promises.

The situation became even more tense during the pre-election campaign of 2023. At that time, the ruling power tried to discredit the opponent Tusk’s party and the European Union with a greater attitude. It is worth noting the tweets published by the official page of the PiS party that Tusk wants war, while PiS is healing the Polish economy. In addition to this, the utilization of AI in generating falsified images and leaked emails as part of spreading malinformation enters the arena. The latter may be based on real facts but is personally directed at causing public harm to specific individuals.

Notably, despite a change in government, the landscape of disinformation remains largely unaltered. The post-election landscape can be perceived as even more complicated. On the one hand, we can argue that disinformation seems to be an official doctrine of those in power. There are still questions regarding the extent to which the Civic Platform’s pre-election promises are fulfilled. Nevertheless, PiS is now trying to spread its narratives from the opposition. And people may still believe them despite the change of government.

Emerging threats

As 2024 marks an election year, encompassing both EU and municipal elections, it is likely that the wave of disinformation will become even larger. Furthermore, the complicity of international actors in disseminating disinformation and anticipating the polarization of societies, adds another layer of complexity to the situation. One notable instance is the involvement of Chinese websites, exemplified by WAWELEX, stealing content from various local newspapers and posing as Polish media outlets. Remarkably, all of these entities operate from China. While China’s motives may seem unclear, insights from the Konkret24 team suggest that Russia’s influence is evident behind China’s endeavours. This layered involvement underscores the multifaceted nature of modern disinformation campaigns and highlights the need for vigilance in the face of emerging threats.

The challenges of fact-checking work

When working every day in an environment with more and more disinformation, it appears clearly that not all disinformation can be covered. This means that fact-checkers must make the crucial choice of assessing what might cause more damage to Polish democracy and the information environment. Asked about this challenge, Konkret24 journalists put forward the criteria used to assess the dangerousness of false information: the popularity of fake news, the novelty of the issue, the information disseminator’s level of influence, and the purpose of this disinformation. Therefore, they evaluate that, in the current context, disinformation on the welcoming of Ukrainians in Poland might be more urgent to deal with than climate change disinformation, which has been widespread for a longer time.

Moreover, bearing in mind the objective of effectively reducing the effect of disinformation, fact-checking faces one problem: how can it reach the people likely to fall victim to this practice? The work of Konkret24 fact-checkers is published on TVN24 websites and social media. But, always with a view to process the most dangerous disinformation, it can also be broadcasted on TVN24, which is the most followed TV channel in Poland. In any case, we cannot overlook the fact that it is much harder to convince those who already believe in disinformation. Efforts must then focus on preventing more individuals from falling for this false information.


The evolution of disinformation challenges underscores the critical role of fact-checkers in safeguarding the integrity of the information landscape. Since the inception of Konkret24, the commitment to combating falsehoods has remained steadfast. The impact of global events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and geopolitical tensions, shows us the necessity of adaptation in the fight against disinformation. However, one important question always arises: who is behind all this? Unravelling the intricate web of disinformation requires not only vigilance but also a deeper understanding of the actors and motivations driving its propagation. As 2024 looms as an election year, the imperative for fact-checkers to prioritize their efforts strategically becomes even more pressing. Through collective action and proactive measures, the journey toward a more informed media landscape in Poland continues, fuelled by the dedication of truth-seeking individuals.

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