Only three days of aggressive campaigning on several social media portals and platforms known for their tendentious posts was enough to contaminate the population with prejudices and lies. In the report of the local TV station in the municipality of Obleshevo-Cheshinovo, the reporter surveyed citizens about why they think the swallows have not yet arrived or are present only in small numbers. Without a doubt, most of the interviewees answer quite convinced of what they are saying.
“We all know why someone is doing what they want to us and we have to live with it,” said one interviewee, and the other one wanted to be completely explicit and stated “they installed 5 gigs called 5G and people started dying,” said the other. The statements of the ornithologists whose expertise covers these questions about the birds, very succinctly explained that the migration of swallows is ongoing and that it will last until the end of April, pointing out that due to the sharp drops in temperature dead birds have been noticed. However, their scientifically grounded position and explanation in the case is not of interest to the aforementioned interviewees whose statements are merely an illustration of much more massive contamination of public opinion.
It is also important to note that the interviewees in the mentioned report are adults who are victims of a manipulation of public opinion that has its own background.
When the Spanish Senate ratified the accession protocol for North Macedonia’s NATO membership, it was certain that by the end of March Macedonia would officially become the 30th member state of the North Atlantic Alliance. Later, when the Macedonian Government submitted the accession documents to Washington in accordance with the accession protocols, it was announced that North Macedonia would officially become a full member of NATO on March 27th. It is important to note that North Macedonia’s NATO integration process was the target of various obstructions, the most effective of which was fake news that in different ways were supposed to prevent the imminent membership in the world’s most powerful military and political alliance in the world.
Three days before the formalization of Macedonia’s full membership in NATO, on March 25th, a massive campaign begins claiming the health of the citizens is going to be exposed to the harmful radiation of 5G technology. In the context of this disinformation narrative, the information that NATO membership implies the fulfillment of all the standards of the organization, including the establishment of secure channels of communication including the 5G Technology if it is introduced in any of the Alliances’ members states.
On March 25th, a news article titled “The United States is transmitting coronavirus through the 5G network” appeared on the Internet. The article in question, bearing the identical title, has been published on an mn.mk portal in which the text of the title ends with the words “the devil and his servants will disappear, and paradise will appear on earth and at the same time Macedonia will return to its original state, country of God’s paradise. Amen!!! ” reasons certain Aleksandar Dzepovski who has signed off as the author of this text. The same content, written by the same author, is forwarded by think.mk a few hours later.
On March 26th, the FB group “Фармери” posted a picture of dead birds asking if anyone knew what was happening to the birds. The following are comments, including that the cause of death of the birds is 5G technology. The group’s post and comments with an emphasis on 5G technology are an “inspiration” for “journalistic research” by 16 portals, some of which are well known to the public for their anti-NATO narratives and frequent fake news publications. The headlines, including insignificant variations, look like this: “WHAT’S HAPPENING?: Mass extinction of birds through Macedonia – farmers warn of danger”. The following portals were part of this disinformation narrative: (1) Bregalnicki.mk; (2) Infomax.mk, (3) Denesen.mk, (4) Vesnik.mk, (5) Republika.mk, (6) Skopje24.com.mk, (7) Vecer.mk, (8) Kurir.mk, (9) Ulica.mk, (10) Think.mk, (11) Skopje1.mk, (12) Shilomagazine.com.au, (13) Objektivno24.mk, (14) Novlist.mk, (15) 4news.mk , and (16) Dubai-portal.com.mk
And if on March 26th the publications were just a dilemma about what happened with the birds, on March 27th, the day of the officialization of Macedonia’s membership in NATO, for the very same information sources there were no more dilemmas. Puls24 published an article titled “It will be more tragic than Chernobyl – an opinion on 5G technology” in the companionship of a video taken from a well-known source of conspiracy theories, David Ike. The same announcement was noticed on a certain news33.tv, where they refer to a video with Serbian subtitles/translation in which a certain doctor Thomas Cowan explains that the coronavirus is the result of 5G technology. The video has been removed by the YouTube administration due to a violation of YouTube’s Community Guidelines.
Together with the narrative that 5G technology is to blame for everything, the same day they supposedly accidentally several outlets published an old news article from 2018 titled “Makedonski Telekom activates the trial 5G network in Macedonia”. The news article is true, but the March 27th announcement does not state that it is news from 2018, rather it is placed as something that is happening now and it is being offered to the public as an answer to the dilemmas published the day before regarding the mystery of the death of the sparrows or the origin of the Corona. Bulevar.mk and makedonskivesnik.mk are also doing this “accidental” news re-actualization from 2018.
In order to arrive at the crescendo of the operation, the portal skopje1.mk announces the same day in the background of the widespread conspiracy for 5G technology, accidentally ..!? another headline from 2018: “Stoltenberg: Candidate states like Macedonia who are acceding to NATO must have a 5G network.” In the continuation of the same campaign on the same day Infomax.mk Dubai-portal.com.mk publish a headline “5G RADIATION IS HARMFUL: Slovenia stopped the introduction of 5G technology” or “Switzerland stopped the 5G project due to health concerns for its citizens”.
The next day, March 28th, six more similar disinformation was published. In total, in just three days from March 25th to 28th, 32 such “news articles” were registered on 24 different portals, of which several news articles with such content were published several times during the three critical days of this disinformation campaign.
Social networks are a powerful tool for spreading fake news
In order to get the desired effect out of the disinformation campaign, Facebook groups and individual profiles are engaged in parallel with the publication of fake news. Portals that publish news articles in this way achieve a significant number of shares on their Facebook pages.
On March 27th and 28th, two Facebook groups were created – Стоп за 5Г.mk and Стоп за 5Г мрежата во Македонија. Nearly 10,000 followers are recruited very quickly. Everything is posted in the name of lies and manipulation. Manipulative images related to 5G technology posted on individual/private FB profiles manage to reach high 3,400 Facebook shares.
The activities on the social networks are followed by the initiation of two petitions against 5G technology again on the critical day of March 27th, when Macedonia’s membership in NATO is being formally made official. The petitions “СТОП ЗА 5G ВО МАКЕДОНИЈА” and “STOP ZA 5G” also receive more than 18,000 signatures in a short time.
And so … in just a few days, the intense disinformation campaign sparked a small revolution in the public opinion. The survey of our colleague from Cheshinovo explained at the beginning of this text is a clear illustration of the effects of such disinformation campaigns whose primary goal was to minimize and discredit a historic event for Macedonia such as the one on March 27th when the country became the 30th NATO member state.
This project was funded in part through a U.S. Embassy grant. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed herein are those of the implementers/authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Government.