Photo by Metamorphosis

Disinformation is a pressing issue not only for North Macedonia, but for the other Western Balkan countries as well. This was one of the conclusions of today’s panel discussion “Building Social Resilience to the Harmful Effects of Disinformation”, organized by the Metamorphosis Foundation within Media Literacy Days.

Filip Stojanovski, Partnership and Resource Development Director in Metamorphosis, emphasized that networking at the national and regional level is important for capacity building, but it is also a form that provides synergy, i.e. the sum of joint efforts is much greater than a simple sum of individual efforts in regard to disinformation.

In the fight against disinformation, it is necessary to work comprehensively, engage all stakeholders and approach all target groups in the society. This country has a great susceptibility to disinformation among the population, and simultaneously there are huge efforts to utilize this by various promoters of harmful influences from abroad.

Filip Stojanevski, Photo: Metamorphosis
The experiences from Serbia regarding the problem of disinformation were shared by Nikola Petrović, Director of the International and Security Affairs Centre (ISAC fund). Petrović emphasized that the situation in Serbia has not changed for a long time in terms of media literacy and disinformation. In Serbia, such initiatives to strengthen media literacy have never been supported by political parties.

“Media illiteracy is a traditional value in Serbia,” emphasized Nikola Petrović, adding that with slight exceptions of some media, this reality has its own history that dates back for decades.

He emphasized that Serbia is not only the recipient of foreign influences in the media sphere, but it is also a regional centre for the further dissemination of such disinformation. He pointed to the offices of Russia Today and Sputnik in Serbia as proof of the strength of the Russian influence in Serbia.

Thereby, he mentions the political component and the political forces in Serbia that are the drivers of close cooperation with the Russian Federation, which today has become a brotherhood.

“Serbia and its political parties have such a close relationship with Russia that it is even difficult to reduce this level of closeness. This is the reason why Sputnik and RT are present in Serbia,” said Petrović.

He added that due to media illiteracy in Serbia, media headlines with suspicious content have the highest number of clicks. The anti-Western campaigns in Serbia started at this level in 2008 after the Declaration of Independence of Kosovo, when Russia saw a huge opportunity to enter the Serbian media space.

“This pushes Serbia as a self-isolated country that does not see its future in the EU and in Western society,” said Nikola Petrović from the ISAC fund.

In addition to everything coming from Russia, there are also domestic analysts and politicians in Serbia who are used as sources to spread pro-Russian narratives and further strengthen them. A huge number of Western sources are also used in spreading disinformation and Russian propaganda by the Serbian media, which, although of pro-Russian nature, are not identified as such in the Serbian media.

“Serbia is very important, because the media in our country take contents from the Serbian media sphere uncritically and then present it to our audience through copy-paste journalism,” Stojanovski pointed out at today’s panel discussion.

Jona Plumbi, a journalist from the Albanian fact-checking service, shared her experience with disinformation in Albania. She indicated that bad journalism dominates in Albania, and disinformation and misinformation is widely spread. Through the fact-checking of, they want to overcome the problem that people have been facing, that is, the impossibility to discern what news is fake and what isn’t.

Faktoje were involved in several media literacy campaigns in Albania, and they also produced a video tutorial for young people, in order to send them messages that it is important to verify what they hear. They also engaged public figures (actors, singers, athletes) to spread the message of the importance of media literacy to the audience.

Faktoje is working with the University of Tirana in order to offer a media literacy course and it is an optional subject at the Faculty of Journalism, however their goal is to make it a compulsory subject at this faculty.

“We are also working with our partners in the region, because it is very useful for disinformation exposure. We must cooperate with our partners in the region to demonstrate the flow of disinformation in the region”, says Jona Plumbi, adding that it should be understood that some of these hot topics are not only a problem spreading in Albania, but also in other countries.

At the panel discussion, Albulena Halili, a scientific associate at the Max van der Stoel Institute within the South East European University, promoted their activities from the beginning of the operation until today.

The goal of the team of researchers from this institute, who come from different fields – security, diplomacy, communications, journalism, information technology – is to work with disinformation at an academic level, both in the country and in the Balkans. After creating the research team from the South East European University, in 2020 they already became part of the Fake Spotting project led by the University of Bologna and several academic centres from Europe.

They participate in various conferences, and write blogs, their staff participates with completed research papers that they share in scientific journals in this country and abroad, said Albulena Halili, who is the head of the Media Literacy & Disinformation Research Cluster. “We are very pleased that we have been able to gather so many collaborators to date, and this speaks to the seriousness of our ability to approach as a country. We need not only individual communities of journalists and fact-checkers, but to act together against this challenge in the fight against disinformation”, stated Albulena Halili.

Despina Kovachevska, media monitoring specialist at the Metamorphosis Foundation, presented to the panel the latest quarterly monitoring report on disinformation trends and narratives in the Western Balkans region, which was created for the July-September 2023 period as part of the project “Western Balkans Anti-Disinformation Hub” supported by the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Despina Kovacevska; Photo: Metamorphosis

“Foreign malign influences use disinformation to cause confusion and disruption, to instil anti-Western sentiments, to present Russia as an alternative to the EU and to cause as much polarization as possible within the societies,” said Kovachevska.

The most recent quarterly report was dominated by disinformation narratives – the war in Ukraine, attacks on the West, relations between Serbia and Kosovo, attacks on the EU, conspiracy theories, and the conflict in Israel.

In the period from July to September, the dominant disinformation narrative was the war in Ukraine, whereby the disinformation that is being spread aims to justify Russia as conducting a special operation in Ukraine, that Russia is fighting against Nazis, that the West is to blame for the war in Ukraine and similar disinformation.

Immediately next to the war in Ukraine, the main narrative is the demonization of Western civilization, that is, disinformation is used to portray Western societies as decadent and morally corrupt.

“There was a lot of disinformation about the relations between Serbia and Kosovo, and the narrative was mostly that Kosovo is a fake country, that it is a source of crime, that it is a threat to Serbia and the EU, and parallels were drawn between what Russia is doing to Ukraine and what the West has done to Serbia,” said Kovachevska.

In the third quarter of this year, the narrative of attacks on the EU is also present, through the spread of disinformation that the EU is blackmailing the Western Balkan countries, that it violates international law, that it defends fascism and fascist behaviour, that it supports paedophilia and supports the LGBT+ community.

“What we can do is raise media literacy, so that citizens and journalists themselves can deal with disinformation,” stated Kovachevska.

The speakers at the panel sent messages that the educational role of the media in digital and media literacy should be encouraged, as well as the understanding of how citizens can acquire the skills to successfully receive information in the digital world. In addition, the academic and research community should speak, write and research much more on the spread of disinformation in the Balkans. Furthermore, media literacy should be introduced in formal education.

“Without media freedom, it is impossible to have a democratic process,” said Nikola Petrović from Serbia.

Goran Rizaov, manager of the Media for Democracy Program, emphasized that many things that need to be done are urgent, but he believes that education is the most important element in the fight against disinformation, and not only for young people. He also has a message for the citizens that they should not watch and read unreliable media.

“The editors should do their job, check the facts. The third thing is for political parties to give up their troll farms. If they do this, then the spread of disinformation will not be so viral. Institutions should also increase their transparency,” recommended Rizaov.

The fifth edition of Media Literacy Days opened today with the panel discussion “Building Social Resilience to the Harmful Effects of Disinformation”.


“For that particular reason, a group of organizations addressing the development of professional journalism and media literacy jointly launched an initiative that led to a set of recommendations for joint action. These 11 organizations submitted them to the main stakeholders, i.e. to the state institutions above all, with a request to launch an initiative to create a strategic framework for a fight against disinformation in this country, in which all stakeholders will be involved,” stated Stojanovski.

He added that joint and inclusive work is necessary for building the national strategy to combat disinformation.

“The representatives of state institutions accepted the messages and agreed to formally launch a process to build resilience against disinformation, and the next steps include an even more extensive consultation process to develop a strategic framework against disinformation,” he added.

The next steps will be developed depending on the will of the institutions, says Stojanovski, pointing out that he expects them to offer a specific schedule and infrastructure for the development of the institutions.