Don Quixotes and Sancho Pancho of Infodemia

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Author: Sefer Selimi

Being а witness of hysteria on social media and among the jungle of unconfirmed, misleading, half-truthful and false information reveals another truth: we lack a critical approach to information consumption and this is the result of poor educated media. According to the Media Education Index North Macedonia ranks last in Europe with only 12 points out of a total of 100 and with a difference of 66 points behind Finland who is in the top of the list. Simply put, among other things, the citizen of North Macedonia is the last in Europe who can distinguish between a false news and a real news, to identify credible sources of information and to be able to check the veracity of the facts. This makes us not only vulnerable to misinformation campaigns but also an easy target for them.

Recently, with the Democracy Lab association, we launched an online platform, MythBuster.mk, which aims to counter misinformation, especially those related to the spread of Covid-19 pandemic. This task placed us in front of an endless ocean of fake news that come to life, transform, transfigurate, alienate and regenerate into the strangest, funniest, absurd and often beyond the limits of sound logic by inserting deep into imagination.

At first glance, many of these posts are comical and can easily be despised by ignoring them without paying attention to them, but our common tragedy is that many people, our friends in real and virtual life, trust them. And so far there is perhaps a tolerance for letting everyone believe within their own world everything that they see reasonable and closer to their truth, but these disinformation campaigns are not designed to stay within our individual worlds or even in our nearest district. They are designed to provoke concrete reactions, feelings and actions that can result in real damage to property, individual and collective health but also to the undermining of certain social and political processes.

If a fake news has appeared on your networks, especially those related to global events, know that it is not a simple creation created by an ordinary citizen but they are transformation, alienation or mutation of a news constructed to serve a purpose, to advance a certain agenda.  News of the 5G antennas in Bogovinje unknowingly spread to citizens who are rightly concerned about their health, but the conspiracies around them arose thousands of miles away from Bogovinje, in another language and for other purposes. News of microchips on coronavirus-infected bodies spread panic among readers as the author had ridiculed not only the readers but also the online portals that rushed to spread the news, using the names of the chips and spices as university names and experts who have conducted the study.

Another piece of news that “revealed the purpose” of the spread of pandemics and Bill Gates’ interest in inventing the vaccine prompted hundreds of fake news and posts that raised suspicions about the philanthropic work and the billions of dollars invested by the Bill and Melinda Gate’s Foundation to fight this infectious diseases in the poorest parts of the planet, where a vaccine can make a difference between the life and death of a child. And of course, the source of this conspiracy was thousands of miles away, at the Strategic Culture Foundation in Moscow, a foundation founded and led by a former Soviet-era Communist Party leader.

Like pandemics, also infodemia knows no boundaries, race, language, or social status. It can be imported from abroad but it becomes dangerous only when local broadcasting starts and unfortunately this is currently happening to us. To locally broadcast the information, we have thousands of Don Quixotes with online portals and FaceBook sites, without any journalistic standards or professional criteria, half of them fight with windmills while the other half win at the expense of fear and panic of citizens. Hundreds of charlatans and palazzos in the role of Sancho Pancho are also helping them, who with a 5-minute video rape not only common sense but also thousands of hours spent by scientists, doctors and researchers who have been studying epidemics for decades.

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The Balkan Institute for Regional Cooperation – BIRC is non-governmental and non-partisan, fully independent in its operations, based in Tetovo. The organization is committed to promoting and practicing quality journalism and scientific research in fulfilling of its goals for a society with democratic values, transparent institutions, functional democracy and the creation of a region of cooperation and prosperity. BIRC is made up of proven experts in the field of journalism and science.