The fake news and sophisticated disinformations phenomenons are now extensively recognized as a substantial problem that even the most well-developed societies continue to face.

The appearance of COVID-19 pandemic has actualized the discussion on this problem, after people, non-formal organizations, or even governments, are reported to have been behind the use of misinformation to flourish amidst the panic and push further their agendas – be that the simple intention of acquiring easy money or some small step in a larger agenda against liberal democracy.

But, the fake news ‘producers’ gained an unexpected ally in their quest – unprofessional online news media. Although not connected to fake newsers and shady webpages that supply the false news, online portals have become a strong cog in the chain of supply.

But how did this happen?

In Kosovo, the technological development in many fields has caught up quickly. With an energetic youth that has become active and knowledgeable, many companies that work with important foreign companies through outsourcing have appeared in recent years.

Prior to that, a different wave of tech influx had happened in Kosovo – media that published their work online began to appear, as many embraced the opportunities and turned to online publishing.

Having a widespread usage of internet and companies that have offered strong connections early on, online media quickly build successful initiatives. But, the sector continues to suffer from the lack of necessary human cadres; most of the journalism schools in Kosovo have outdated curriculums, and students usually fail to acquire the needed skills to become adept professionals.

News portals continue to appear ‘like mushrooms after rain’, but the journalism practices often don’t meet the minimal required ethical and professional standards.

This week, a young girl committed suicide and an online news site published the name, picture, and other data that should have been kept from publishing. Many expressed their disgust toward this action and the Asociation of Journalists of Kosovo was quick to condemn the publishing of damaging elements for the privacy of the victim.

Many years before, KOHA Ditore, a respected daily newspaper in Kosovo, published a made-up article that contained a lie for April 1st, the April Fools day. The article ‘explained’ how George Washington was of Kosovar Albanian ancestry, but in the end, it told the readers that it was a joke.

Curiously enough, the article continued to be republished in the online media years after, even that it was repeatedly confirmed that it was not true.

In general, online portals have an extremely limited number of people in staff and usually function by copying articles from one another the whole day long. A single journalist usually publishes more than 20 articles per day, and in rarer cases the number goes up to 40.

Thus when a dubious article begins to circulate online, journalists that are often young and inexperienced don’t take the time and effort to fact check the article or the elements in it. After the article enters a domain of circulation it will quickly spread in multiple portals within hours, giving the unverified news the edge and causing massive damage in the process.

Many experts argue that the schools should include a media education subject in their
curriculums in order to minimize the damage caused by fake news, propaganda, and unverified elements within the articles, but a quick end to it not in sight yet as other measures are being discussed also in the political level, as the protectors of free speech continue to oppose any measure.

Arian Lumezi