On October 28th , Radio YEF organized a discussion on the topic “Clear and loud – How to get out of the conspiracy theories?”. The discussion focused on the following questions: Why is this content so appealing to so many people? How do they spread and how can we protect ourselves from their influence?
Speakers at the discussion were communicologist and new media expert Bojan Kordalov, F2N2 program manager Rosana Aleksoska, and Vladimir Petreski of the Media Fact-Finding Service.
Rosana Aleksoska contribution follows.
In general, in this period of global crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, we see disinformation every day, and one of the forms in which they appear are conspiracy theories. What is interesting is that conspiracy theories are not new, they have been around for a very long time, and it is even more interesting that this is not the first time in history that we have witnessed conspiracy theories about the origin of a particular virus. So we see false narratives every day, telling us that the corona virus is artificial, that it is a fabrication, that it does not exist, that it is not so dangerous, that all of this is a scenario of some world government to control us.
If a parallel is drawn between when AIDS and the virus that caused the disease first appeared, the then Soviet Union launched a disinformation campaign that the HIV virus was a biological weapon created by the United States. And since there was no internet then, first in 1983, in a low-circulation Indian newspaper, a letter was published from the so-called American scientist that in fact American scientists are behind the HIV virus. Furthermore, this letter and this story have been resurrected several times over a long period of time, for example then in 1985, 1987, and the work has reached such a point that even credible media outlets have started publishing this misinformation.
So it is not the first time that humanity has faced disinformation campaigns, they have existed before, but what is especially important is that then, and now, some of these conspiracy theories have anti-Western sentiment and are used to attacked Western democratic societies. There are many examples of this, and I would not go into details.
The advent of new social media has brought many benefits, but also risks, i.e. platforms like Facebook and Twitter are often misused, and I have a slightly different view here that platforms are most to blame for what is happening to us and the spread of disinformation. and conspiracy theories. Yes, they have a role to play, but we see that in the recent period they have started to take more serious measures, so we often read how they have abolished entire networks of factories with trolls, Facebook profiles, Facebook pages, etc.
Disinformation is dangerous and much more dangerous than completely false news. We know that the latter are completely false and that is it, but when we talk about disinformation, the essential thing that everyone should understand is that we are dealing with half-truths.
On the day when North Macedonia became a member of NATO, March 27th, a disinformation campaign was conducted in our country, which by all characteristics can be said to have been seriously planned and well organized. The goal was to draw the attention of ordinary citizens, instead of rejoicing in the historic success achieved, and that is NATO membership. It was a mix, through conspiracy theories that the 5G network causes the corona virus, that it has negative effects on birds, there were several different variations on that theme. I think we can all agree that as a NATO member, our country can be the subject of such similar disinformation campaigns, especially at key times in history for our country.
We can analyze the profit, and who benefits from this, on several levels. First, let’s say that we have people who want to make money and start their own “business” with a certain internet site, which we cannot treat as a medium, because they are writers, not real journalists.
Now, credible media and credible journalists are losing out on this whole situation. Here we are talking about news agencies that have serious journalists, have editorial policy, follow certain rules and standards: edit texts, research, translate, record. So that is a big deal, and now their copy of the marketing pie is taken by a writer who uses copy-paste, while drinking coffee at home, posting on the internet, which will provide a number of clicks with sensational titles throughout the day. The key question is who loses, and of course we must not neglect the other part, and that is as long as there are domestic factors that have gain, whether to profit or disinform, until then we will be open to external malignant influences. Russia’s attitude and interference in the internal affairs and internal problems of many countries in everything is nothing new especially in democratically developed western societies.
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.