Hide and seek in Slovakia: utilizing tracking code data to uncover untrustworthy website networks

by   Jozef Michal Mintal, et al.

The proliferation of misleading or false information spread by untrustworthy websites has emerged as a significant concern on the public agenda in many countries, including Slovakia. Despite the influence ascribed to such websites, their transparency and accountability remain an issue in most cases, with published work on mapping the administrators and connections of untrustworthy websites remaining limited. This article contributes to this body of knowledge (i) by providing an effective open-source tool to uncover untrustworthy website networks based on the utilization of the same Google Analytics/AdSense IDs, with the added ability to expose networks based on historical data, and (ii) by providing insight into the Slovak untrustworthy website landscape through delivering a first of its kind mapping of Slovak untrustworthy website networks. Our approach is based on a mix-method design employing a qualitative exploration of data collected in a two wave study conducted in 2019 and 2021, utilizing a custom-coded tool to uncover website connections. Overall, the study succeeds in exposing multiple novel website ties. Our findings indicate that while some untrustworthy website networks have been found to operate in the Slovak infosphere, most researched websites appear to be run by multiple mutually unconnected administrators. The resulting data also demonstrates that untrustworthy Slovak websites display a high content diversity in terms of connected websites, ranging from websites of local NGOs, an e-shop selling underwear to a matchmaking portal.


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