Teacher from Nyíregyháza is behind the fake news site deleted for Russian propaganda
Google has decided to remove the Hungarian-language conspiracy theory website, Világ Helyzete due to misleading pro-Kremlin propaganda. But the editor who publishes his articles under the pseudosynonym “SBG Buddha” still controls a media empire. In civilian life, the head of the “alternative” media empire works as a college teacher in Nyíregyháza (city in northeastern Hungary), and although he claims that his activities on the sites do not interfere with his work and private life, we know that he has advertised his sites, which provide misleading information, to several students entrusted to him.
In July 2014, after the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war, the English-language European broadcast of the Russian state-run Russia Today television published a chilling but poorly substantiated report, which appeared on The Truthseeker news background programme, claimed that the Ukrainian government was carrying out genocide in eastern Ukraine while preparing Ukrainian children to invade Western Europe by shouting Nazi slogans.
A day later, the footage, with Hungarian subtitles, was available to the Hungarian public on Világ Helyzete (meaning “the situation of the world” in Hungarian). The commentary on the site, which specialises in translating and publishing so-called alternative news, repeated the main claims of the report. But even the Russians said there were serious problems with the original report. Television management immediately cancelled The Truthseeker due to “unsubstantiated information”, and the archives of previous broadcasts were removed from their website. Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator, subsequently issued a decision condemning the broadcaster for failing to meet the requirement of balance.
These developments were not reported in VilagHelyzete and the report could still be viewed on the Hungarian site. At least until 28 February this year, when Google deleted the page on the grounds of misleading information.
“I can only attribute it to one factor: unfortunately, it is the war that has started in Ukraine. Since in 2014-15 the articles of VilagHelyzete already described why, with what aims this war will break out in the future and what plans are behind it, now too many people started to share these articles,” complained the editor-in-chief, in response to a question from Átlátszó.
No evidence of the alleged genocide reported in the Russian-backed television’s problematic report has since emerged. This year, as is well known, it was not Nazi Ukrainian children who attacked Western Europe, but the Russian army. And in March, Ofcom withdrew the licence of the TV channel renamed RT.
But the editor-in-chief, who publishes under the pseudonym SBG Buddha, continues to do what he always does. Now the blog called Vilag Helyzete has been removed, but SBG Buddha is still running three Facebook pages, plus a Telegram channel of 6,000, and of course Alternative News.
Fake news on an alternative news site
VilagHelyzete and its sister site, AlternativHirek, were already included in hvg’s 2015 collection, where they published a list of sites that, according to the paper, “regularly scam users”. Both sites were later added to a similar list of “fake news sites – or, if you prefer, alternative news sites” on the Urban Legends myth and fact-checking site. SBG Buddha’s two pages were both listed as counter-intuitive, biased mouthpieces.
Political Capital’s research last year found that three of the top 10 most common original sources of links shared by far-right and pro-Kremlin websites and Facebook pages identified by the think tank were also linked to SBG Buddha. Világ Helyzete was also featured in a study on deceptive Hungarian news sites by the Media Centre of the Central European University a few years ago. One of the more interesting findings of the study was that for most of these sites it is impossible to identify who is behind them.
This is interesting because these ‘alternative’ news sites do essentially the same thing as the ‘mainstream media’ that they vilify. They publish news, they do so according to some sort of selection-editing principles, and they often seek to make a profit. They just don’t take responsibility for what they write.
At the end of February, the site became inaccessible
At the end of February, we approached the editor of VilagHelyzete for an interview, which we were finally able to do via email. The editor justified this by saying that events in the world had prompted him to be cautious.
A few days later, we learned that Blogger – an online content management system owned by Google – had unexpectedly deleted the blog Vilag Helyzete on 28 February 2022. The reason given was that it violated Community guidelines by containing misleading information.
“Blogger (google) deleted VilagHelyzete without any prior warning” As he writes, in practically half a year, only a dozen articles have appeared on the site recently, so it is likely that articles or translations about Ukraine were the reason behind the removal, or more precisely
“In 2014-15, the articles of the WorldPlace already described why, what the aims of this war will be in the future and what the plans are behind it, now too many people started to share and update these articles.” Soon after, he shared the news with his Facebook followers and started a fundraiser campaign to relaunch the site.
RT News as “real journalism”
Among the sources of the articles translated from foreign sites for VilagHelyzete, the majority are from the Russian state channel RT News (occasionally Sputnik), which can hardly be accused of objectivity. The author’s reason for this is that he has been following the Western mainstream media for at least 30 years, and he would like to contrast these with RT News articles – and although he believes that state influence may be a concern, the same can be said for the mainstream media as well.
He always seems to tailor the site’s topics to the political events: ahead of the November 2020 American presidential election, there was a proliferation of articles quoting one of the government’s favourite right-wing political commentator, Tucker Carlson. In 2015, the focus was on migration-related content, with the Russian-Ukrainian crisis being a recent example. One of the first articles, from January 2014, talked about the destabilisation of the Ukrainian government by the US, while another referred to the Russian invasion as a favourite distortion of the liberal media in the West.
In 11 years, more than 800 articles have been published on the site, but from 2018 onwards, there have been less than 50 articles a year, or an average 2-4 a month. This is partly due to the creation in the meantime of a sister site to Vilag Helyzete, Alternative News (Alternatív Hírek) in 2016.
The site is still active, with 15 articles published so far in March. According to the author, this platform publishes translations, articles by international journalists and researchers “who the mainstream media ignore”, making it “an alternative media for daily news, analysis, exposés and videos of interest”. Over 1600 articles have been published on the site in the last 6 years.
The clues lead to a teacher in Nyíregyháza
The head of the alternative media network, the editor-in-chief-translator, who publishes under the pseudonym SBG Buddha, works in civilian life as a college teacher in Nyíregyháza, and his name is László Ottohál.
According to the introductory text of Vilag Helyzete, “the blog contains the insights, information and knowledge of only one person.” The author of the articles is a certain SBG Buddha, who, according to the website, is the editor, creator, owner and operator of VilágHelyzete.
The site is run by László Ottohál, a teacher at the Ilona Zrínyi High School and College in Nyíregyháza.
As he says, anonymity was a conscious choice on his part: he believes that if he exposes who he is, he will be judged by that, rather than by the message of the articles. On the other hand, he does the site in his spare time, so he didn’t want it to interfere with his profession or his job.
According to one of our sources, Ottohal mentioned to him that an acquaintance was helping him with writing and translating the articles. However, this was not confirmed by the author, who told us that he had been doing it all himself since the beginning, which took him an average of 10 hours a day after work, i.e. about 70 hours a week on translations, and publishing articles.
“By doing this work on my own… I have been able to keep myself from being exposed to the influence of different political circles. Although I have been approached for help, and I try to do it for those who I feel have the interests of the Hungarian people” he writes. He did not want to say what kind of requests he had received, explaining that he had not been authorised to do so by the political parties.
Online newspaper for HUF 2500
There are no advertisements on either Világ Helyzete – which has since been removed – or Alternatív Hírek, but both sites accept donations, via PayPal and Patreon. And there are other ways to support the sites: the monthly newspaper which collects articles and posts in an online publication. The magazine costs 2500 HUF, the latest issue from March, is 600 pages long.
However, we were unable to find out exactly how much money comes in from donations and purchased newspapers each month, and when asked about this, he said that the site is not aimed at making a profit, “the 22 patrons and sometimes small, symbolic support is more for survival or to maintain and develop the site.”
The inviolability of privacy
Ottohal repeatedly indicated that he doesn’t consider himself a public figure, which raises an interesting legal issue. According to Hungarian law, journalists are by default public figures.
He also claims that there is no intersection between the private and professional life of “SBG Buddha” and László Ottohál.
“In my very first answers, I stressed that nowhere in my civil life does my online activity appear, and that there is no connection between my family and my activities in the world, especially my workplace and these online activities, and that is why I insist on privacy and respect for my personal rights. There is and will be no crossover between the two! I do not promote this site, nor do I ever recommend it to anyone.” – he wrote in a letter.
At the same time, Átlátszó spoke to two former college students – who asked to remain anonymous – who unanimously claim that they had already been aware that László Ottohál was behind the World Situation and Alternative News websites.
Conspiracy theories at school
The dormitory of the Zrínyi School in Nyíregyháza is known by the students as the “indoor” dormitory because it is located right next to the school. There is also another dormitory a little further away. Each year, the students are divided into 13 groups, each led by a teacher.
“If I remember correctly, we had compulsory monthly dormitory lessons with the teachers for classroom-style discussions. He held several mandatory recommended film screenings with better and better themes – e.g. Rhondy Byrne’s The Secret, but we also watched a Scientologist documentary about a psychiatrist conspiracy, and an MLM campaign film. On one occasion, there was some kind of archangel card divination,” – reveals one of our sources, who attended the high school in the early 2010s.
“Nibiru, moon Nazis, reptilians, you name it. He made no secret of the fact that he edited the site: his Facebook followers, according to our source, were initially dominated by college students, and his personal profile was for a long time a workplace for “Truth Researcher here: VilagHelyzete.com” – but he has since removed it from his profile. However, this type of activity is still listed on his LinkedIn profile.
Another source, a former college student, said: ‘I wouldn’t actually say he edits the page if he didn’t say so’, as he is a nice, friendly, good-humoured teacher. However, Ottohal specifically recommended the sites to him. One evening before the elections, when he went to the rooms for a headcount check, the topic turned to politics and migration. “He started to talk about a conspiracy theory that the Muslims want to flood Europe and take it over like the Turks or the Moors did many years ago. And he talked about his site that he writes about this in detail.”
The answers from the editor of Vilag Helyzete are available in full here.
Translated by Zita Szopkó. The original, more detailed Hungarian version of this article was written by Zita Szopkó and Márton Sarkadi Nagy, and can be found here.