SU-PRO-MEDIA | 19.04.2018 17:50 > 19.04 18:05

The Land of Fake News

The information “Albanian flag put up at the Bogorodica border crossing” was published recently by several portals along with a photograph allegedly taken at the Bogorodica border crossing, at the Macedonian-Greek border, showing a border post with an Albanian flag stuck to it. The report claimed that on the Greek side of the border the Macedonian coat of arms was covered by an Albanian flag. After the portals, the item was released by the online editions of several traditional media. A few hours later, however, the Macedonian Ministry of the Interior issued a denial stating the following:
“The information and photomontages made on several websites, that the Albanian flag has been displayed at the Bogorodica border crossing, are completely incorrect and untrue. No such case has been reported to the Ministry of the Interior. Immediately upon the publication of this false information, the place in question at the Bogorodica border crossing was checked and it was found that no such case existed.”
The fake news about the Albanian flag at the Macedonian-Greek border was publicized at a delicate time for the multiethnic Macedonia. Just a few days before Macedonian MPs passed a Law on Languages, expanding the use of the Albanian language in Macedonian institutions to the entire territory of the country, which additionally fueled Macedonian nationalism.
“Fake news is increasingly starting to dominate professionally processed news. The phenomenon is directly affected by several factors, including trust in the media and the forming of criteria and values of a society. Both contribute greatly to the creation of serious space for fake news,” says MIA news agency director Dragan Antonovski.
Fake news is so frequent in Macedonia that the public is now calling its country – the land of fake news.
Several websites, including a Skopje-based radio station, recently published/broadcast the news that the Albanian coalition partner, the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), was leaving the Macedonian government. The problem is that it was true news, but three years ago, i.e. in 2015.
DUI MP Artan Grubi, who announced the news of the departure of the party’s ministers from the cabinet at the time, reacted on his Facebook profile to the news that was unexpectedly rebroadcast this past March, with a comment reading: “Due to ignorance and ‘nonchalant’ journalism, my statement from 2015 has today become fake news.”
Aleksandra Temenugova of the Institute of Communication Studies believes that the rapid development of new media creates fertile ground for the multiplication of fake news.
“Information is obtained in zero time, but what is absent is perhaps the key media tool – fact checking, so that correct and verified information may be released,” she says.

Temenugova draws a distinction between fake news and disinformation, but the end goal of both is to be presented in public in order to cause damage or make profit. The sources of such information are often in the ranks of powerful political or business figures, who, as a rule, benefit from said information the most.
“Nothing is different than before, be it about business power centers or political power centers. The difference is only in form, i.e. the packaging in which that fake news reaches us,” says Temenugova.
MIA wire service director Antonovski is even harsher. He says that politicians and businesspeople have kidnapped journalism and are now abusing it to serve their own needs. The biggest winners, however, are politicians.
“This pertains mostly to political elites, because manipulation and spinning, creating a certain political climate, environment, benefits those who are fighting to come to power and no one else. All the others are losers,” says Antonovski.
He explains that the flood of fake news is unfathomable, at least for the time being, because professional standards have been devastated.
“I think that we have low professional standards. There are many media that do not invest in education, in professionalization, in young people who will work according to the standards. At this time, one professional medium can be made out of all the media we have,” says Antonovski.
“All of these byproducts we have now should perhaps take us back to the first classes in which we taught students the basics of journalism. What are the main principles according to which journalists work: checked, correct, fast and just information,” says Temenugova.
Certainly, the audience also needs to be made media literate so as to be able to recognize fake news. Systemic solutions for mass media education during elementary and high school education also need to be developed, especially bearing in mind the influence of the Internet and social networks on the new generations, popularly dubbed “millennials.”  

It seems that it is precisely teenagers who have a different attitude toward fake news and that they have fully understood the power of social networks. Globally, it appears that current U.S. President Donald Trump benefited the most from fake news from Macedonia. Namely, during his 2016 presidential campaign, almost 140 webpages were made in the Macedonian town of Veles, which posted fake, sensationalist news in Trump’s favor. The news was disseminated by Macedonian teenagers on social networks, mostly Facebook. Foreign media have reported on the subject, while the Macedonian journalists who investigated the story are not too keen to talk about it on camera.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in an interview with CNN confirmed that during the 2017 local elections in the U.S. fake profiles with fake news located in Macedonia were detected again.

In 2017, during the special elections for the Senate in Alabama, we set up new tools we’d made for detecting fake users trying to spread fake news. We discovered that many fake users came from Macedonia, said Zuckerberg.

The seriousness of the fake news problem is also underlined by a European Commission expert group report unveiled this past March, which contains recommendations and advice for combating fake news and disinformation distributed online. During the European integration processes Macedonia should probably also implement this European advice on its journey from “the land of fake news” to “the land of checked information.”


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