King’s College London academics presented a major new study on disinformation in the Western Balkans to the European Parliament today (Thursday).
The study, Mapping Fake News and Disinformation in the Western Balkans and Identifying Ways to Effectively Counter Them, examines closely the “endemic and ubiquitous” use of disinformation in the region and attempts to gauge its impact, including on elections and referenda, as well as attitudes to the COVID-19 pandemic and the EU itself.
The study was presented to the parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee and was co-authored by King’s academics, Professor Sam Greene (King’s Russia Institute), Dr Gregory Asmolov (Department of Digital Humanities), Professor Adam Fagan (Department of Political Economy), and Dr Ofer Fridman (Department of War Studies). External co-authors Borjan Gjuzelov and Dimitar Bechev also contributed to the study.
In Mapping Fake News and Disinformation in the Western Balkans, the authors highlight the predominantly internal nature of disinformation in the region, as domestic actors manipulate the media to pursue their own political ends. However, the authors simultaneously point the finger at Russia, China and Turkey for the proliferation of disinformation and fake news in the Western Balkans.
An emerging disunity between American and EU political goals for the region is also highlighted as a continuing threat to the region, alongside the work of Russia to prevent further integration between countries in the region and Euro-Atlantic institutions.
The report encourages the EU to focus on its role in bolstering the quality of democracy and governance in the Western Balkans “as the most powerful potential bulwark against disinformation”.
The report notes: “Disinformation is not the product of poorly regulated digital media ecosystems or exogenous security threats. Rather, it is the result of a combination of structural vulnerabilities – poor governance, geopolitical exposure, deep-seated internal enmities, and disunity – and a dynamic field of opportunities to deploy false information for the attainment of political goals.
“As a result, the policy responses we have recommended do not reside entirely in the media or security domains, but place significant emphasis on the domains of governance, public engagement and diplomacy.”
You can view the presentation to the EU parliament here.