Polish government warns of disinformation after fake messages are sent out before election

Poland’s government is warning citizens to beware of a disinformation campaign after some people got fake messages saying the ruling party was offering free funerals for pensioners

ByVANESSA GERA Associated Press

October 12, 2023, 11:51 AM

A man puts up election banners for a candidate of the ruling conservative Law and Justice party, including an image of the party leader and Poland’s de-facto leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, in Czosnow near Warsaw, on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023. The Poles are voting in key parliamentary elections on Sunday that will decide whether Law and Justice wins a third consecutive term, or the pro-European opposition forms the new government. AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

The Associated Press

WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s government warned citizens Thursday to beware of a disinformation campaign after some people got fake messages saying that the ruling party was offering free funerals for pensioners.

The country is facing a crucial national election on Sunday, and the fake messages and the warnings come as cyber experts have warned of the risks of disinformation.

The fake text message urged recipients to vote for Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, adding: ’“We will provide funerals for pensioners for free.” The party denied making such a campaign promise, and warned citizens to disregard the messages.

The intention of the messages wasn’t clear. The government already offers partial compensation for funeral expenses, but offering to pay fully has not been an issue in the election campaign.

Lukasz Olejnik, a cybersecurity expert and co-author of a recent book, “Philosophy of Cybersecurity,” said it wasn’t clear if the messages amounted to disinformation, or if they were someone’s idea of a bad joke or trolling.

But the messages would more likely hurt the ruling party because the offer of free funeral service ”can be read as a suggestion that you should die soon,” Olejnik said in an email to The Associated Press.

“No sane political party would issue such a message to their electorate. People prefer to focus on remaining alive.”

In any case, the messages could potentially skew the election.

“The potential for disruption is there if someone does not have the ability or willingness to read between the lines, or does not have the necessary sense of humor,” Olejnik said.

Stanislaw Zaryn, a top security official, alleged that the fake messages were “part of Russia’s operation against the elections in Poland.”

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