Five out of eight of Bulgaria’s political parties with seats in Parliament signed a declaration on May 20 2015 pledging not to use internet trolls in election campaigning.
The declaration was initiated by centre-right coalition Reformist Bloc MP Anton Trenchev, who organised a May 19 round table discussion about the use of paid commentators on the internet.
Bulgaria’s current Parliament has eight parliamentary groups and four MPs who sit as independents. Of the eight groups, two did not attend Trenchev’s May 19 forum – the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and minority far-right party Ataka.
On May 20, representatives of five parliamentary groups signed the declaration: GERB, the Reformist Bloc, the BSP, nationalist Patriotic Front and the Bulgarian Democratic Centre, the last-mentioned originally Bulgaria Without Censorship.
Those who did not sign were Ataka, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms and minority socialist party ABC.
Signatories undertook not to pay commentators, party or commercial organisations, to spread on the internet deception and slander or to incite hatred or make insinuations about political opponents.
The declaration invites civil society and the media to monitor any breaches of the agreement and to highlight them in “the most uncompromising way”.
“This declaration probably will not solve the problem, but it is the first step, so we invite the media to actively participate in the fight against trolls,” Trenchev said.
Georgi Georgiev GERB said that it would be better to have an independent arbitrator to monitor compliance with the declaration and suggested it be Transparency International.
In early 2014, the use of internet trolls by political parties was a headline-making story, including disclosures that the BSP had hired a company to improve the party’s image on the internet, and the right-wing Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria admitting that it had organised people to defend its image online.
Some time ago, local television station bTV said that GERB, the centre-right majority partner in the current governing coalition, had instructed people about which websites to post comments on, and what to say.
Bulgaria saw continued heated disputes on news websites and social networks amid the political dramas of 2013 and 2014, at the time of the anti-government protests, European Parliament elections and two ahead-of-term national parliamentary elections.
According to Trenchev, the going rate for paid comments was between two and seven leva (about one to 3.5 euro) a comment.
He told public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio that there was a consensus among parties to “take this step of goodwill” and sign the declaration, which he described as a “gentlemen’s agreement” to condemn the hiring of firms to troll on websites.
Bulgarian voters are to be invited to polling booths in November this year to cast their ballots in mayoral and municipal elections across the country.