With the presidential elections in the Republic of North Macedonia fast approaching, the election campaign intensifies, as the scope of the disinformation promulgated in the public, formed into the so called “fake news”, increases.

The term “fake news” is widely used nowadays, mostly to delegitimize news that is completely accurate, but disliked by the person classifying them as fake. Here, we will use this term in its original meaning i.e. conscious, deliberate and specific placing of inaccurate news and information, in this case, for political reasons, in order to harm the reputation of the political opponent by manipulating the uninformed voters, even the relatively well informed ones, but who lack the resources to check and analyze information at all times, every day, to determine what is true and what is fake. The rise of fake news in the pre-election period is not unusual. What was unusual in the past 2-3 election cycles was the manner of placement and the contents of the fake news.

Pre-election disinformation has two main features: first, it is created in a systematic and organized manner, it is released in public by different actors of the political and public scenes in order to conceal and hide its origin: local politicians, presidential candidates, politically instrumentalized portals, other media and social networks, when it is necessary to form greater distance between the real source of disinformation and the one who published it. Moreover, disinformation is sometimes even used as vindication for political action.

Its second feature is that it almost regularly creates made-up scandals when there are not real ones. It always contains forced and unprovable guilt of the political opponent, it creates empty, artificial and forced rage, and most importantly, fake news stories are unverifiable i.e. it cannot be proven who is right and who is wrong, because it all comes down to both sides saying different things.

Even when the fabricated scandals are verifiable, the checkup, i.e. the truth still has a hard time to reach the wider public. Firstly, the rebuttals are never as penetrating as the first, breaking, sensational disinformation, and when it comes to fact checking, those who spread the disinformation are far louder than the fact checkers. Namely, the one who spreads disinformation does so on behalf of a party or as a presidential candidate, and as such, they get media space to repeat the disinformation and manipulate the public on multiple occasions.

These days, there have been multiple examples of disinformation and manipulations: the fake news of the alleged resignation letter of the Minister of Health, Venko Filipche, to the Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, on the pretext of Minister’s moral responsibility about the measles epidemic in the country. This disinformation was immediately denied by the Minister himself, but not before it was publicly spread.

The alleged influence of the presidential candidate, Stevo Pendarovski, in the employment of his brother in the Intelligence Agency, is another one of the pre-election “affairs”, disregarding the fact that his brother has been employed there since 1999. The news also contains multiple negative details of Vojche Pendarovski’s career, attributing them to an anonymous source.

Another manipulation is the allegation that the Mayor of Skopje, Petre Shilegov, forced the employees in the Public Enterprise “Komunalna Higiena” to be present at a political party rally, but the news is based solely on one photo of several employees of the public enterprise in their work suits. There are no other sources of information, no statements of relevant authorities, but one allegation and one sentence as a conclusion to the allegation. That is all.

This is only a small portion of the fabricated or forced “scandals” in the pre-election period of the 2019 presidential elections. The number of disinformation is especially large when it comes to the country’s economy (for example, German investors allegedly rated the Macedonian economy with “zero”, reinvested finances is not investments, and the like), especially news containing a lot of data and news easy to manipulate the public with, news that requires professional background and knowledge to be recognized as fake, knowledge that most of the voters do not possess.

The common thread through all of the fake news stories is the fact that none of them has been explored completely or explored at all. They are all shallow, unfinished and inaccurate, which is a typical feature of disinformation, and regarding their number and intensity, they are all in favour of a specific candidate in the pre-election campaign.

Furthermore, what is most worrying is the danger of their effectiveness i.e. the danger of successfully imposing a story based on headlines and easily recognizable untruths, manipulating the voters to give their vote based on false narratives, without being aware that they were deceived.

 

Author: Vladimir Petreski