The NATO Review on December 21, 2020 published a piece highlighting the vulnerability of the Western Balkans to foreign disinformation and looking at ways to combat it. In particular, Serbia was identified as the epicenter of disinformation to the region, noted in the latest disinformation study of the European Parliament as the “launchpad for Russian disinformation operations in the Western Balkans.”
The COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine development and distribution have provided prime examples of the susceptibility of the region to Kremlin-crafted messages intended to discredit Western aid and vaccines. The author notes it could take decades to solve the complicated media landscape of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia, where there are thousands of media outlets, often feeding content (without verification) off one another.
The article proposes a combination of efforts including media literacy and education for citizens, fact checking operations, and “a game-changing approach would be to train journalists to spot disinformation and to develop expertise in specialised fields to produce quality fact-based content.” These efforts are only just beginning in the region, where the focus is on producing quantities of content rather than quality, but the newly established Balkan Security Network aims to provide journalists with fact-based content on a regular basis. Similar approaches could be applied in other vulnerable regions of the world as well.