(This content is a translation of the original article in Macedonian, published on the 7th of December 2022)
To minimize the negative effects of disinformation on democracy, we must jointly fight it. For that to happen, the institutions must be transparent and the media and the civil society must actively be checking and debunking disinformation. Media education on critical thinking must be introduced, writes Portalb.mk.
These conclusions were drawn in the panel discussion “Security Threats to Democracy and European Efforts in Fighting Disinformation” that was part of the 18th edition of the two-day international conference “E-Society”, organized by the Metamorphosis Foundation, in Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia.
The speakers at the panel discussion moderated by Filip Stojanovski from Metamorphosis Foundation, were representatives of European institutions and fact-checkers from Western Balkans. They discussed topics related to the impact of disinformation on democracy in the region and Europe.
PhD. Jasna Jelišić, Head of the Western Balkan Working Group in the European External Action Service, focused on how they were dealing with the impact of disinformation on the EU, which, as a problem, is global and not specific only to the Western Balkans.
“In 2018, prior to European elections, we had an Action Plan against Disinformation, as well as Practice Code and it was the first time for large platforms to be included by the European institutions. This year we had the Digital Service Act, a clear regulation from the European institutions enforced with specific obligations for controlling large platforms. Allignment of the legislation with that of the EU, is something that the Western Balkans must do. EU is a partner and the largest investor in the Western Balkans, but there are also manipulative narratives that are disseminated in the attempt to show a different outlook, that we are fully aware of here in Brussels”, said Jelišić, expressing satisfaction from the balanced positions of the Western Balkan leaders in the fight against manipulations and hybrid attacks.
She commented that what was important in the fight against disinformation was professionalization of the media, media education on critical thinking, civil society action and the institutions.
Carlos Hernández-Echevarria, from Maldita.ес, said that fact-checking in the EU had a very important role and that he hoped that the same would be implemented in all the member-states and the accession candidates.
“The struggle is to make the large platforms responsible and accountable. The solution of the authorities for the massive platforms – related to disinformation – must be global and Europe-wide. because disinformation, especially in Europe, has no borders. The main problem in the EU related to this issue is that a model needs to be developed that will interact and deal with disinformation”, said Hernandez-Echevarria.
In addition, Hernandez-Echevarria stressed that the fact-checkers should be more proactive, open and respect the established standards for distancing from politics. He also added that the most important thing that can be done is to enable media and critical thinking education, not just for pupils, but for the entire society.
Jelena Berković from Faktograf from Croatia said that the problem with disinformation was a global one and therefore a global solution must be found. At the same time, she called to adhering to the high standards for the fact-checking.
“We must build a systematic reality based on the facts around us. People in society must have fixed coordinates to trust a given system and to participate in what needs to be done. The role of the civil society is extremely important, especially since fact-checkers started off with strict standards and Faktograf – where I am a member – must undertake some kind of changes to adhere to such standards. I am looking forward to seeing the expansion of the European network outside the EU and gather all those interested in fact-checking on the basis of high standards. If you abide by the high standards, then you can be part of the stakeholders on the table where big decision-makers, such as governments, are seated,” Berković said.
Darko Brkan from “Why Not” from Bosnia and Herzegovina hoped that the whole discussion that included a large number of stakeholders from the entire continent, will be able to offer wide reaching observations and greater control on European and global level.
“As fact-checkers, we and all the others that work on checking information on local level, including those dealing with media training and journalism, with confidential data, with education and all people who work with regulation of similar branches in general, will certainly not be able to do much if their convictions are focused on the local level only. If you do not check the platforms, if you do not set up principles on the way the entire information sector needs to look like, you would not be able to fix it from a local perspective. Journalists and media need to be more careful towards this threat and they should focus on collaborating with fact-checkers and other stakeholders dealing with disinformation that improve the media sphere”, said Darko Brkan.
Patris Pustina from “Faktoje” from Albania talked about the recent cyberattacks by Iranian agents and the insufficient transparency on the government of Albania, leaving space for speculations.
“The government gave no information about this case. We were faced with complete lack of transparency, which opened the door for speculations. We faced public apathy, and consequently, I believe that the media sphere does not secure good quality journalism. We have so many online portals that spread disinformation without any relevant context, and sometimes even completely fake news directed towards no real aim. Their primary purpose is to attract clicks and reviews. Their intention is not malicious conspiracy, but click-hunt,” Pustina said.
Fitim Gashi from “Sbunker” from Kosovo said that regarding disinformation, Kosovo was a particular case, and mentioned several cases when in parallel with political events in the country, disinformation was produced and the source was primarily Serbia.
“For the citizens living in the North, the main problem is lack of access to information. Maybe due to the ethnic division of the citizens from that part, the citizens do not inform themselves from mainstream media, but from the media from Belgrade. The main pieces of disinformation stem from the agreement, which is a topic of interest for Kosovo. Disinformation about the war in Ukraine – translated from Serbian media – also exist as well as disinformation regarding mercenaries from Kosovo. There was also disinformation for the purpose of presenting Kosovo as an unstable entity. Institutions must be as transparent as possible, the media and civil society must play their role in revealing disinformation, and media trainig should start from the earliest age possible,” Gashi explained.
This year’s edition of e-Society.mk lasted two days and consisted of 7 panel discussions, 2 inspirational speeches, 1 television debate and 1 screening of the film “Sisterhood” by Dina Duma (in the Cinematheque of North Macedonia).
Activists, experts, journalists, civil servants and supporters from the Western Balkans and wider shared their positions and opinions on digital transformation of public administration and the societies of Western Balkans, respect for human rights on the Internet, supervision and processing of biometric data, privacy, ramifications of cyberbullying in real life as well as bridging the gender gap in cybersecurity.
The conference included discussions about the narratives in disinformation, the impact from disinformation and malign foreign influence on the democracy of the society of North Macedonia, as well as the security threats to democracy and the European efforts for fighting disinformation.