The mass die-off of fish in the Polish and German Oder River has sparked a number of theories behind the disaster, but some of them actually appear to be a coordinated effort to dupe the Polish public.
The alleged presence of mercury in the Oder River was a test for the media, government and public opinion, said Maciej Świrski, the president of the Polish League Against Defamation, a non-government organization. The unverified news about the presence of mercury in the river was spread by Polish media and the country’s left-wing opposition.
The environmental catastrophe in the Oder River became the number one topic in the Polish public debate over the weekend and proved to be the next opportunity for the opposition to attack the government.
German media reported on Friday that samples from the Oder contained high levels of mercury, which could poison the fish. Left-liberal media, politicians and sympathizers of the opposition quickly latched on to the claim, regurgitating it without question.
Despite the fact that this information turned out to be completely false and has not been corroborated in the course of the investigation, the topic is still popular in the public debate. It is impossible to find a prominent article clearly debunking the reports of mercury on most of the news portals that support the opposition. Yes, the information that no mercury was found was included in those articles, but it was carefully hidden in the text.
Maciej Świrski briefly analyzed this situation on Twitter.
“In my opinion, this ‘mercury’ was a test of susceptibility and responsiveness of the media, public opinion and government to shocking fake news. The next could be about a ‘dirty bomb’ in a critical moment, prior to the elections for instance,” wrote Świrski.
“Considering the manner with which the fake news spread, it can be concluded that we are not dealing with sensationalism, but instead with an operation involving useful idiots that was supposed to find how vulnerable Polish society is to misinformation. @PAPFakeHunter service is investigating this case,” he added.
The Oder River, also known as the Odra in Polish, runs from the Czech Republic to the border between Poland and Germany before flowing into the Baltic Sea. Ten tons of dead fish were removed from it last week, but the cause of the mass die-off has not yet been determined.