Behind the Scenes of Manipulation
In today’s article, I’ll delve into the conspiracy theories emerging from media news influenced by the police. These news might be part of an operational game or a way for the authorities to shape public opinion. This narrative often paves the way for allegations, political conflicts, and even court cases.
If conspiracy theories and manipulated facts become the basis for legal proceedings, then we’re dealing with disinformation, a form of informational manipulation that culminates in a broader psychological operation. How should we understand this? The essence of this action is that information is introduced into circulation, presented in a certain manner, and bolstered by authority figures (such as prosecutors, police officers, investigative journalists, or public figures like ministers). As a result, this information takes on a life of its own and begins to be perceived by the public as truth or facts. The purpose of disinformation is to manipulate public opinion or influence the course of criminal proceedings.
In the case presented below, the psychological operation, in the context of the media and public opinion, directs the narrative in a direction desired by the police. As I will demonstrate with examples, false information leads to the emergence of conspiracy theories. Consequently, this can likely result in abuses of power. These falsehoods themselves also serve as an excellent vehicle for further generating conspiracy theories and influencing society.
This raises questions of an ethical and political nature. However, we will focus on the technical aspects, definitions, and mechanisms of how conspiracy theories emerge in public opinion.
This week, I listened to a podcast about the Iwona Cygan case. The author, an investigative journalist, provides a series of facts related to the X-files, police officers involved, and the prosecutor, Piotr Krupiński, appointed by Zbigniew Ziobro (Minister of Justice and Public Prosecutor General), leading the case.
What interests me in this entire story is the aspect of the psychological operation in which many journalists uncritically cooperate with the police. In exchange for privileged access to case files or information, they are instrumentally used to shape the narrative of the investigation in public opinion. The program discusses the issue in the context of allegations that are most likely fabricated.
The Iwona Cygan case was popular among the public. Journalists gaining knowledge often do not verify information or delve deeper, trying to get access to the files at any cost. A critical approach was taken by Mateusz Baczyński, verifying sources and exposing the fact that theories circulating in the press, sourced from the police, are untrue.
Fabrication of Evidence?
When it comes to the creation of pseudo-facts in this case, we specifically speak about the alleged existence of an organized group, which supposedly included criminals, police officers, and individuals from Iwona Cygan’s circle. They were purportedly involved in trafficking women to brothels and filming pornographic movies. The entire group allegedly benefited from prostitution and was protected by influential individuals.
During the investigation, it was revealed that the case materials submitted to the court did not contain evidence of such events. No supposedly victimized women were found, nor were there any pornographic films. A controversial individual cooperating with the X Archive, who promoted these theories in court, completely withdrew such statements. Therefore, it can be concluded that the notions unofficially pushed by the police might be debunked as untrue.
A friend of the murdered woman was labeled in the media and by public opinion as the “brothel madam,” a Satanist, and was believed to be one of the individuals involved in the murder. Allegedly, in a town referred to by the press as the Polish “Twin Peaks”, mysterious deaths occurred. A book titled Town of Crime: Why Iwona Cygan Was Killed was even released. It remains unclear whether the destruction of evidence was due to the incompetence of provincial police officers or a group effort. The existence of this group was likely not proven. There’s also no evidence suggesting that the accidents involving witnesses are connected to the case.
Podcast Excerpts with Mateusz Baczyński
I quote the podcast transcription (please note the highlighted sections):
Yes, Bogdan Michalec is indeed very intriguing. […] He is the co-author of 2 books on the behind-the-scenes of the X-Files, where he signs with his full name. […] The most negative perception I have is of a man who has actually worked in this X-Files archive, right from the very beginning of this unit […]
Bogdan Michalec also mentioned in my interview that he doesn’t like cases with a lot of evidence. And honestly, when I look at his investigations, I’m not surprised. Because in these post-investigations where he operates, one can indeed draft accusations that resemble literary fiction. It might even seem amusing if it weren’t for the fact that it impacts the lives of many people, literally breaking their backbones, destroying their careers, and shattering their lives. And that’s absolutely shocking. […]
In the case of Iwona Cygan, I encountered such a phenomenon for the first time. It became a sort of perpetual motion machine. Meaning, some information would appear in the media and start to take on a life of its own. Then witnesses would be summoned for testimony, and these witnesses would repeat what they heard in the media. At the same time, this was treated as confirmation of the theories that appeared in the media. So was there some self-propelling mechanism? Indeed, Bogdan Michalec was always keen to talk to the media […] Only later did I, and thankfully not just me but many journalists, realize that his approach to us was merely utilitarian. That is, he simply used us in this way. Michalec also quickly grasped how important public opinion is in these matters, which is quite terrifying because it implies that the judiciary, the courts, etc., are not free from the influence of public opinion, from media influence, etc. Because if we set such a spiral in motion in the media, proclaiming someone is definitely a murderer, and the court looks at the evidence and releases such a person, for example, doesn’t decide on arrest, you can imagine the backlash such a judge would face. Because here in the media, everyone declared that this guy is a murderer, and now he’s released? […]
The story of Iwona Cygan is also a significant lesson for me personally. It shows the consequences of certain information appearing categorically in the media, and how media categorically stigmatize certain people, for example in a small community, when in reality, this information isn’t fully verified by the media. For me, it’s a personal lesson that now, when I hear, for example - because in the past I also had such a high degree of trust - that if I heard that something is announced by the EU, the prosecutor’s office, or the police, it’s probably true. Now I have very limited trust in all such media leaks coming from the prosecution and the police. […]
This could be anelement of a certain game, and I don’t want to be a pawn in this game. So every piece of information really needs to be thoroughly verified because we might end up disseminating nonsense, and then rectifying it becomes extremely difficult […] there’s a whole array of such things that appear, which indicate that people, even though there’s absolutely no evidence, still believe in these various theories that have been circulated in the public and media space for many years.
Codename “Skin” - Another analogy in the police’s modus operandi?
I have also listened to the podcast concerning the manner of handling the case codenamed “Skin” by the X-Files, which refers to the skinning of a student from Krakow. I also read 2/3 of a book by Monika Góra titled Codename “Skin”. Regrettably, I couldn’t get through the painstaking cataloging of every witness’s statements, as it’s unproductive for me, and I’m more interested in methodology and the influence on the media.
The crux of the issue is that, just like in the case of Iwona Cygan, the same X-Files investigative team and the same prosecutor, who solves cases at a breakneck speed while ignoring inconsistencies and procedural errors, were involved in resolving and conducting the investigation. And similarly here, based on the documentation by investigative journalists with access to original and procedural materials, there were likely issues in solving the case, handing it over to the special X-Files unit, whose modus operandi was showcased in the work of two investigative journalists - which involves introducing to the public a narrative and hypotheses that are later verified in the initiated legal proceedings. In short: facts are generated and then a witness is sought to confirm these facts. Threads that do not fit the assumptions are also omitted.
Connections with Ewa Kopacz - the “red herring” technique
An intriguing aspect of the psychological operation concerning the Iwona Cygan case and the information released by the police is the sudden emergence of the alleged connection of Ewa Kopacz with the accused in the Iwona Cygan murder case.
Timeline of information release
Ewa Kopacz is a Polish physician and politician. She served as the Prime Minister of Poland from 2014 to 2015. Before her tenure as Prime Minister, she held various significant positions in Polish politics, including Speaker of the Sejm (the lower house of the Polish parliament) and Minister of Health. She is a member of the Civic Platform party. In addition to her political career, Ewa Kopacz is trained as a pediatrician.
Ewa Kopacz was linked to the murder case of Iwona Cygan mainly through media speculation and some statements by individuals associated with the case. It is worth noting the sequence of events, i.e., the appearance of media information in media associated with the ruling party - referring to wPolityce and the government TV station TVP.INFO. The information that appeared in this context is:
1. Linking the murderer’s surname with Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz
There’s information that Paweł Kopacz is wanted as a suspect in the murder of Iwona Cygan TVP.INFO Mystery murder from 18 years ago close to being solved. Arrest warrant for a 46-year-old. At the same time, many Twitter profiles link the surname similarity with Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz. Note that this is happening a year before the parliamentary elections. Twitter Unfortunately, many of the Twitter profiles pumping such information have a short lifespan, being blocked as troll farms by the service and community, hence accessing archival information on this topic in 2023 is challenging.
Then, in the media associated with the government, articles appear stating that the suspect in the murder of Iwona Cygan, Paweł Kopacz, known as “Young Flap”, was part of a group of men linked to some moral acts in Poland and Austria.
Paweł Kopacz and his father, Józef K., hinted they have a high-ranking relative in Poland who protected them from arrest. Austrian media reported that the murderer of Iwona Cygan suggested he is related to a high-ranking Polish politician, although no specific name was given. wpolityce.pl
I want to highlight the fascinating application here of the red herring technique so frequently used by Russian troll farms and individuals inspired by the FR services. False information is thrown out, heated in the media, and even if they are entirely untrue, the stench remains, and Ewa Kopacz must defend herself in this matter. Nowadays, people scan headlines and do not analyze the stream of information, so there’s a high likelihood that the red herring technique will work.
3. Strengthening the “Red Herring” Technique - Interrogation by the Prosecution
By invoking the authority of the prosecution, Ewa Kopacz is questioned about alleged connections. This technique is based on the fact that the public will remember the act of questioning. Even if there’s no basis for such a connection, it will lead to the emergence of conspiracy theories about “influential people protecting criminals”.
Ewa Kopacz was questioned about this matter in 2017. The interrogation aimed to investigate whether the former prime minister was related to those suspected of a murder, known as “flaps”. However, Ewa Kopacz firmly denied any family ties with the suspects. FACT: Murder of Iwona Cygan. Why was Ewa Kopacz interrogated? New facts.
4. Informant suggests that the prosecution is using the case for political purposes
An informant cited in the FACT article suggested that the prosecution might have wanted to use this case to create a political-media sensation by interrogating Ewa Kopacz, which could bear the hallmarks of a psychological operation and creating a narrative that targets political opponents. FACT: Murder of Iwona Cygan. Why was Ewa Kopacz interrogated? New facts.
It seems evident that speculations and media reports might have influenced public perception on this issue, namely creating an impression that “influential people protect their own.” The sequence of events is a classic example of the practical application of propaganda techniques and manipulation (red herring) aimed at building a negative image of a politician and fostering conspiracy theories.
Sure, here’s the translation:
Summary - The Essence of Conspiracy Theory and Lack of Falsifiability
What interests me in this matter is not the ethical or methodological issues in police work, but the influence of theories and theses introduced into public opinion, which, despite being later disproved, become conspiracy theories (according to the definition I use). As investigative journalists themselves note in the cases described here, these conspiracy theories and narratives are not confirmed by evidential facts. Even in many cases, the witnesses (victims) state that they were manipulated by the police to make false claims and they retract their statements.
In the eyes of society, as Baczyński points out, critical thinking and attempts to falsify a conspiracy theory are met with its self-affirmation, meaning if you disprove it, you are “acting in favor of the criminals”, or “you are part of the gang”. A critical approach is not well received by law enforcement agencies because “we would have to admit our mistake”. Similarly, denial comes from public opinion, which is often followed by the judiciary passing judgments.
The examples presented today are a perfect illustration of how not only conspiracy theories work, but also how the lack of falsifiability of these theories operates - despite the existence of facts or lack of material confirmation (evidence, testimonies) for the existence of, for example, a porn gang, satanists, a conspiracy within the police, etc., the public still believes in it, and these views cannot be refuted, because any critical argument indicating that there is no basis for this theory will be treated by the theory’s proponents as evidence of the existence of a conspiracy, a gang, and individuals hiding the truth.
Simple causes, such as the likely incompetence of the officers handling the case in the early days, the oversight of the Attorney General pushing for quick solutions, and cooperation with the media where conspiracy narratives were released, significantly contributed to the creation of conspiracy theories. A striking proof of conducting a psychological operation based on emotions is the fact that the case was given the codename skin, referring to The Silence of the Lambs. See Gazeta.policja.pl
I hope that this brief overview of this topic has piqued the reader’s interest in exposing conspiracy theories and understanding their mechanisms of action.
This article was translated from original polish version using AI. If you want to support my work, you have a link at the bottom of the page.
Sources - articles
- Monika Góra “Kryptonim Skóra”
- Monika Góra “Miasteczko zbrodni. Dlaczego zginęła Iwona Cygan”
- Mateusz Baczyński „Martwy punkt. Sprawa zabójstwa Iwony Cygan”
Sprawa Ewy Kopacz i powiązania ze sprawą Iwony Cygan: