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Improving the quality and trustworthiness of the Serbian information space and allowing citizens to make better informed decisions. Donor: Transition Promotion Program of the Czech Foreign Ministry
Overall objective: The overall aim of this project is to improve the quality and trustworthiness of the Serbian information space, allowing citizens to make better informed decisions.
This project is the second step of our existing efforts to combat disinformation and propaganda in Serbia, moving from resource development and training programs to the dispersal of reliable news and “cleansing” of untrustworthy sources for the wider public.
● In-person and online trainings for journalists on information verification, digital security, and open source investigation
● In-person and online workshops for long-term election monitors on fake news, propaganda, misinformation, and other forms of media manipulation identification
● Establishment of an information verification editorial team in collaboration with the Istinomer fact checking platform to promote politician and public institution accountability and production of propaganda and disinformation debunking content
● Creation of specialized digital propaganda pages on istinomer.rs and promotion of these resources through social media
● Production and publication of articles on disinformation in Serbia, elections, and other issues of societal importance.
In late June 2018, 18 Serbian journalists were selected to partake in the “Verification Online and on the Ground,” workshop hosted by Istinomer and TOL. The training was led by Aliaume Leroy, an investigative journalist with BBC and Bellingcat, an organization that uses open-source and social media investigations to delve into sensitive topics worldwide as well as Maximilian Ulrich, a journalist with the German public service broadcaster ARD who has significant experience reporting in crisis situations and has covered the refugee crisis in Turkey, Greek, Serbia, Germany, and elsewhere. Participants were introduced to the latest trends and advanced tools in verification of online information and agenda topics included an introduction to open-source investigation, advanced internet searching, crowdsourcing, photo and video verification, digital security for journalists, and fact-checking strategies. Following each session, participants were given tasks and assignments and had the opportunity to practice their new skills.
Following the in-person workshop TOL hosted an online trainings aimed at solidifying open-source and online investigation skills developed at the initial workshop and providing additional time, resources, and tools for fighting disinformation and propaganda. Sessions were led by Aliaume Leroy and included introductions to using geospatial data and satellite imagery, tracking tools, and crowdsourcing platforms such as Wikimapia and Checkdesk.
Info Verification Team
Following the June training, CRTA selected 3 journalists to join the Istinomer newsroom to form the info verification team in August 2018. The new members actively contributed to Istinomer’s fact-checking and disinformation countering efforts through the publication of evidence reports for key social issues, producing around 100 fact-checks, analyses, and investigative reports between August and December 2018. In addition, the team reported on political statements by leading politicians and public figures, and produced and published 90 fact-checking articles assessing politicians’ accountability between August until December 2018,
The content produced and published in this period focused on topics of public interest that have been subject to numerous manipulations and controversy, such as the unemployment rate, GDP growth, pensions, constitutional reforms, the crime rate, Kosovo, false information about immigrants, etc. A culminating report was also prepared: A Year in the Eyes of Istinomer: Vucic, Falsehoods, and Parallel Reality.
Some articles generated significant readership. One story in particular, titled 1,500-1,600 Protesters at the Plateau in front of the Faculty of Philosophy, debunked false information spread by the minister of interior, Nebojša Stefanović, with the help of the “MapChecking” online tool.
Transitions Online Publications
Within the reporting period Istinomer journalists prepared two articles for publication in Transitions Online magazine in English. The first one, titled “A Master of Deception,” covered various misleading statements and false information made by President Aleksandar Vučić and the second, titled “Serbia Debates the Public's Right to Know,” focused on the issue of free access to information.
In addition Stefan Janjić, a participant of TOL’s 2017 project, produced a piece on the prevalence of fake news in Serbian mainstream press and beyond, and a piece on controversies surrounding Serbian reality shows (“Serbia: Reality Wonderland”) was produced and published in January 2019.