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Disinformation and malicious foreign influences in the Balkan region

2024-02-22 19:48:00, Kosova & Bota CNA

Disinformation and malicious foreign influences in the Balkan region

Jason Steinhauer, an expert from the United States on disinformation in social networks, said on Thursday in a conversation with the Voice of America that the biggest danger for Kosovo and the Balkans from disinformation is the promotion of division in society.

"I think that many of these disinformation narratives are intended to divide groups against each other, be they ethnic, religious, national groups or such as the West against the East, the European Union against Russia. I think the ultimate goal of such campaigns is to create divisions which can often lead to violence and real damage," he said.

Mr. Steinhauer was part of the discussions within the Balkan Summit on Disinformation that is taking place today in Pristina under the organization of The Geopost platform, which has been working against the phenomenon of spreading news with incorrect content for three years.

Experts from Western Balkan countries who attended the summit raised concerns about malicious foreign influence through disinformation in the region, which they said comes mainly from Russia.

"Russia is a terrorist and authoritarian state. I will not talk about the details of what is happening there, but the concept of joint powers explains to us that when it comes to new and vulnerable democracies like those in the Balkans, we must be aware that authoritarian states are trying to penetrate their information environments and here I am not only talking about the media, I am talking about history books, social networks and others. Another segment is that, for example, one of the tools that Russia uses is the 'Slavic Orthodox Brotherhood' and influence through the Orthodox Church," said Rosana Aleksoska from North Macedonia.

"As an essential factor that serves as an umbrella is the Serbian Orthodox Church, which according to surveys in the last three years is the most reliable institution in Montenegro and this is not a good thing. Their propaganda is based on the revision of history with confessions that Montenegro does not exist without Serbia, Montenegrins are Serbs or the Montenegrin language does not exist but is a Serbian language. This model has been used by Russia in Ukraine with the claim that Ukrainians are the same as Russians, a model that has been successfully executed there is now trying to be executed in my country," said Milan Jovanovic from Montenegro.

Mr. Steinhauer says that this phenomenon is best combated through the education system.

"There is a great need for media education, critical thinking skills, history education. We have a lot to teach people about how and why certain platforms act the way they do, why certain information circulates in certain ways. All of this requires a broad rethinking of the education system and a massive investment in the way not only youth but the whole society is educated and trained," he said. The leader of The Geopost platform, Gynen Venhari, told the Voice of America that Kosovo also lacks a state strategy that would serve as a guide and a connecting bridge for all initiatives aimed at combating this phenomenon.

"Because there are many initiatives, there are many organizations that work on the spot and on our own initiative, we often have better cooperation with the region and the world than we have among ourselves, and this fight requires a broad coalition, not only internally." says Mr. Venhari.

The participants in the summit emphasized that the fight against disinformation and foreign influences in the Balkan region requires better interstate relations and real political will, underlining that without these elements there cannot be an effective response against this phenomenon./VOA

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