During the summer semester, the Faculty of Philology introduced the module Media literacy within the project Preparing future teachers: Education for Democracy and Human Rights. For this occasion, in this month’s DFC Magazine issue, we are talking with the module authors Ph.D. Dusanka Popovic, Assistant Professor at the study programs Montenegrin Language and South Slavic Literature, Serbian Language and South Slavic Literature, and Pre-school Education, and Ph.D. Marijana Cerovic, Assistant Professor at the study program English Language and Literature.

Considering that the main activity of the project is selecting one of nine key concepts of democratic culture promoted by the Council of Europe, as well as the module creation, Ph.D. Assistant Professor Marija Cerovic says that they chose the topic of media literacy precisely because of their awareness of its significance in today’s society and familiarity with the state in Montenegrin education institutions.

Ph.D. Professor Assistant Dusanka Popovic says that human rights to express freely, select, and receive information spread by media bound the education system to prepare young people, who are particularly susceptible to the influence of media, to develop critical thinking and safely consume information constantly presented in today’s social environment.

Digitalization requires media literate teachers

DFC: Since its founding, the Digital forensic center has been highlighting the significance of media literacy in the fight against disinformation and fake news in its statements and texts. This is why we believe that the creation of the module Media literacy for students of the Faculty of Philology is quite a step forward for Montenegrin society. What motivated you to start this project?

Dusanka POPOVIC: It seems that, so far, the influence of media literacy on each individual to take their active role within both smaller social community they belong to and the society as a whole, through understanding, selecting, and receiving information of different content, form, and purpose spread by the media, has not been sufficiently recognized. Digitalization and new media forms, the increasingly rapid flow of information and their quantity require a media literate teacher, who would be able to understand their students, monitor and prepare them for constant and intensive contact with different kinds of media and their polysemic messages.

DFC: We understood that the module would be realized within the project Preparing future teachers: Education for Democracy and Human Rights. Could you tell us your primary goal and what guided you in drafting this module?

Marijana CEROVIC: The main activity of the said project, organized by the European Wergeland Centre, in partnership with the Faculty of Philology, among others, is the selection of one of nine key concepts of democratic culture (promoted by the Council of Europe) and the creation of module covering selected topic. Being aware of the importance of media literacy and familiar with the state in our education institutions concerning this issue, we saw this activity as the opportunity to promote media literacy and offer it to our students as a free-choice elective. The students from three study programs are participating in this project, but this module could be offered at all faculties educating future teachers.

To encourage students to consider their responsibilities

DFC: What are you expecting from this project, how was it designed and how do you assess the so-far interest of students to take the module?

Dusanka POPOVIC: Human rights to express freely, select, and receive information spread by media bound the education system to prepare young people, who are particularly exposed and susceptible to the influence of media, to develop critical thinking and safely consume information. Drawing from the Council of Europe Reference Framework of Competences for Democratic Culture, we have opted to remind students of the key concepts of media literacy, and the particularity of media text as a construct, of ways in which media messages are constructed and deconstructed, and of the notion of censorship from the perspectives of both editor and reader. And also to teach them how to identify stereotypes and prejudices following the media messages shaped to serve their goal, and to encourage them to consider their responsibilities they assume as either users or authors. An important part of this module is the methodological approach to media content in primary and secondary schools, i.e. how to prepare for teaching on media literacy and how to implement that in a classroom setting. How to implement the practice in schools, i.e. organize classes on media literacy, is also covered in this part.

Since the module is in a pilot phase and is a free-choice elective, at the very beginning, when they were offered the module, and later during the activities, students have shown a high interest, actively participating in discussions, thinking critically, and sharing their opinions on key points of media literacy. They have shown a special interest in research of the issue we are dealing with, creativity in preparing presentations, posters, and other works produced at classes. One of the important guidelines for the module implementation is that the active and interactive teaching methods should be applied in the realization, reproducing a democratic learning environment. One of the goals of the project as a whole is to help future teachers to create a democratic environment in small school communities, whose integral part is media literacy. What we expect is that the importance of this module for the competency of future teachers gets recognized and becomes available to all students.

Teachers should have a high level of media competency

DFC: Do you believe that media literacy should become a mandatory subject in schools? How much significant role does it play for the development of critical thinking among youth?

Dusanka POPOVIC: Despite some elements of media literacy being covered by certain subject programs (for example, Subject Program for Montenegrin-Serbian, Bosnian, and Croatian language and literature, and as a special elective subject in general high schools), this is not sufficient to fully develop this literacy. This is why we believe that introducing media literacy as a separate and mandatory subject would significantly help to understand media, the ways in which they function and the ways in which we receive their messages, and develop critical thinking concerning social events in students’ environments. Besides, high school students, once at faculty, would be better prepared to further study, broaden, and develop this field. We also believe that all teachers should have a high level of media competency that must be continually advanced, meaning that they can recognize the cultural and ethical aspect of media, are familiar with rights, media policy, and its social influence, and have cognitive media skills including knowledge, understanding, and the analysis of media content. The subject could become then a cross-cutting theme covered in all subjects’ programs taught in schools and to get the status that has been nicely put as in one of the guides on this topic for our region: Rather than a new subject, media literacy represents a new learning approach for all other courses.

DFC: To what extent acquiring media literacy skills can help to develop society as a whole and what would be the first lesson of media literacy you would give to both experts and the general public?

Marijana CEROVIC: Media literacy is one of the ways to build and preserve a more human and fairer society, which is, undoubtedly, the basis for its further development. necessary if it wants to further develop. Should we base the youth education on the idea that education for democracy must be received early on at schools, where everyone knows not only their rights but responsibilities as well, we will help them to become active and proactive members of their social communities. It is a serious and demanding task to do, and the choice is upon us – the society and the state. The first lesson of media literacy should be to all ask ourselves: Are we controlling media or are they controlling us? And also what else do we need to know to answer this question…

The new DFC Magazine issue brings the analysis of the activities of the new government regarding the intelligence and security sector in Montenegro, which have been perceived among a significant part of both the Montenegrin and international public as undermining of previously achieved results in that field, weakening of cooperation and sowing of distrust in the relations with NATO member states. In the 30th issue, read about the situation in Montenegro one year after the fight against COVID-19 – in short, high COVID-19 death rate, late vaccine procurement, and economy on oxygen. The guests of our column Interview on the occasion were PhD Dusanka Popovic and PhD Marijana Cerovic, the authors of the model Media Literacy at the Faculty of Philology of the University of Montenegro, who have conveyed a strong message: Media Literacy is a way to create a more human and fairer society!

Download the PDF issue by clicking on the link or the photo below.

Thank you for reading us!

The new DFC magazine issue brings the overview of events in Niksic as it heads into the local elections on March 14. Read about fake researches circulating on the Internet ahead of the local elections, media campaign from Serbia, and activities of the Montenegrin and Serbian political actors and activists. Also, the DFC conducted research on the popularity of the Twitter accounts of five Montenegrin politicians between December 15, 2020, and January 15, 2021, which showed how much of their popularity comes from and outside Montenegro. For our column, Interview on the occasion, we interviewed Ph.D. Milos Vukcevic, a lawyer and Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law of the Mediterranean University. For this DFC magazine issue, he talked about the right to privacy, misuse of personal data, and online identity theft, and how all these phenomena are dealt with by the Criminal Code and Montenegrin legislation.

Download the PDF issue by clicking on the link or the photo below.

Thank you for reading us!

Another Friday has come, together with the new edition of our weekly column On Friday Afternoon. As usual, we will start this week’s overview with the topics related to Montenegro.

On Wednesday night, the DFC discovered at least 50 Twitter accounts that impersonated and, therefore, damaged the reputation of several public and political figures in Montenegro. The activities of these accounts were coordinated and synchronized since, in a very short space of time, they changed their usernames and profile photos to those of public figures and officials. Apart from impersonating the accounts, they also shared inappropriate content. Some Twitter users did not realize that those were not the official accounts of public figures, and engaged in a discussion with them. Considering the short period and a large number of accounts and their mutual interaction, it becomes evident that the activity was not spontaneous but rather organized and synchronized. The DFC reacted promptly and informed the public and competent state authorities about these events. The Deputy of the Basic State Prosecutor in Podgorica Vukas Radonjic confirmed to Radio Free Europe that the complaint regarding fake Twitter accounts had been submitted to the (Basic State) Prosecutor’s Office and that the investigation would be conducted to determine whether (or not) a criminal offense prosecuted ex officio had been committed. Besides, the impersonation presents a violation of the Twitter Rules. Twitter accounts that pose as another person, brand, or organization in a confusing or deceptive manner may be permanently suspended under Twitter’s impersonation policy.

This week, BIRN in Serbia published research that showed that there were serious loopholes in the content control policies of Facebook and Twitter in the Balkans. The BIRN’s major findings showed that nearly half of Facebook and Twitter posts published in Bosnian, Serbian, Montenegrin, or Macedonian language present hate speech, while one in two posts reported for hate speech in one of these languages remains visible online. When it comes to posts promoting violence, the content was removed in 60% of cases, and in cases of targeted harassment, it was removed in 50% of cases. Experts say that the greatest problem could be the lack of transparency in how companies assess complaints about social media.

The Serbian historian Aleksandar Rakovic stated publicly on TV Happy’s morning show that Montenegrins have a mentality error, that they are all crawlers, and that Serbs should factory reset us for a new world which Serbia is building on the territory of our country. These statements were broadcasted during the show Bitka za Niksic (Battle for Niksic). With the local elections approaching, the Serbian media seem to become increasingly interested in the events in Montenegro. After TV Happy introduced the serial Battle for Niksic, the news portal Novosti introduced the column Izbori u CG (Elections in Montenegro). In the last seven days, there were 4,730 texts about Montenegro, which represents 82% more than in the first week of February. Two days after the portal news Novosti had introduced the column Elections in Montenegro, the same column appeared on the news portal Alo, which was labeled the record-holder in breaching of journalism ethics and standards by the Serbian Press Council. It is important to highlight that the Council for Strategic Policy (CFSP) published this week the investigation showing that nearly one in six front-page headlines in the Serbian daily newspapers published in 2020 was fake news.

Late last night, the DFC revealed at least 50 Twitter accounts, which impersonated and thus damaged the reputation of several public and political figures in Montenegro.

The activities of these accounts were coordinated and synchronized, considering that in a very short space of time they changed their username and profile photo to those of public figures and officials including Dritan Abazovic, Momo Koprivica, Branko Radulovic, Marko Milacic, Milo Djukanovic, Milivoje Katnic, Petar Komnenic, Draginja Vuksanovic Stankovic and many others. Apart from impersonating the accounts, they also shared inappropriate content. Besides, many Twitter users did not realize that those were not the official accounts of public figures and engaged in a discussion with them.

Considering the short period and a large number of accounts, and their mutual interaction, it becomes evident that the action was not spontaneous, but organized and synchronized. At this moment, we cannot reveal any further details on who is standing behind the profiles and the coordination or its goal, as not to compromise our investigation.

The Twitter Rules clearly say that impersonation represents a violation of this platform’s Rules. Twitter accounts that pose as another person, brand, or organization in a confusing or deceptive manner may be permanently suspended under Twitter’s impersonation policy.

Yet, there are exceptions when such accounts will not be removed, i.e. when they are not in violation of the Rules. They are the following:

The user shares one’s name but has no other commonalities (which is now not the case. They used the public figures’ names and photos, shared their opinions, and engaged in a discussion with other persons.)

The profile clearly states that it is not affiliated with or connected to any similarly-named individuals or brands. That goes for the following cases:

  • The account name (note: this is separate from the username, or @handle) should clearly indicate that the user is not affiliated with the subject of the account. Non-affiliation can be indicated by incorporating, for example, words such as (but not limited to) parody, fake, or fan.
  • The bio should clearly indicate that the user is not affiliated with the subject of the account. Non-affiliation can be indicated by incorporating, for example, words such as (but not limited to) parody, fake, or fan.

One of the most popular accounts of this kind is Parody Boris Johnson with 145,000 followers, using the identical name and photo as the British Prime Minister, but visibly and clearly indicating, as required by the Rules, that it is a parody account.

Whether it is mere entertainment, how one part of the public feels, or something else, it is not without the reason that social media take impersonation very seriously and impose rigorous measures on this sensitive issue.

Nevertheless, what one person finds amusing may represent a serious problem to another, damage their reputation and honor, and create inconvenient situations.

Another Friday has come, together with the new edition of our weekly column On Friday Afternoon. As usual, we will start this week’s overview with the topics related to Montenegro.

This week, a new issue of our DFC magazine was published. It presents conspiracy theories around vaccines that the media from the region were spreading, which are striving to compromise the credibility and trust of citizens both in the work of health institutions and the immunization process. In the column Interview on the occasion, our collocutor was Dr. Vuk Vukovic, Assistant Professor at Department of Production, Faculty of Dramatic Arts at the UCG. Dr. Vukovic discussed the topic of social media and emphasized that only constant education can lead to a revolutionary shift. Likewise, the 28th Magazine issue covers alternative social media such as Parler and Gab, which have become a safe haven for extremists and supporters of former U.S. President Donald Trump. Download the PDF issue by clicking on the link or the photo below.

Fake or anonymous social media accounts that are spreading inappropriate content have been a very common phenomenon in Montenegro for the last couple of years. Our colleague Milan Jovanovic said for RTCG that the internet contributed to the democratization of information but also caused less pleasant phenomena such as online harassment, lately the most present on fake or anonymous social media accounts.  Click here to read the integral report on possible dangers caused by inauthentic coordinated behavior on the internet.

This week, Niksic was the center of attention in our country. On Monday, Montenegrin police arrested Stevan Simijanovic for possessing a fake diplomatic passport. Simijanovic introduced himself as an American diplomat at the OSCE mission in Vienna, and the media published that he also possessed Montenegrin ID, as well as a Serbian and US driving license. Also, Pobjeda wrote that Simijanovic met with the CM URA representatives, which was confirmed by this political organization. Simijanovic was also a member of the International Police Organization and after being arrested, he was excluded from that NGO. Equally, it is interesting that one of the companions of the fake diplomat Stevan Simijanovic in hotel Ambassador in Podgorica from December 24 to February 9 was Marija Havrilov, a prominent member of the Serbian extremist nationalist movement Zavetnici. Simijanovic has a connection with the Serbian Orthodox Church. According to his LinkedIn profile (before its deletion), Simijanovic was a Sub-Deacon in that religious organization.

Also, Niksic was the center of attention due to the inappropriate graffiti that appeared on the Haji Ismail Mosque in this town. Hate messages directed towards members of the Islamic faith were written on the walls of the Mosque. Even though this kind of behavior was rebuked by all political actors in the country, it is clear that these events will only raise tensions before the local election in Niksic.

This week, the Center for Democracy and Human Rights published a piece of research on media and media freedoms, showing that one in two citizens in Montenegro does not trust media. According to the research, television is still the most dominant media, and Facebook is the most visited social media. Also, the research shows that the citizens have high expectations from the new Government when it comes to the protection of journalists and media freedoms. The author of the research and leading CEDEM methodologist Milos Besic emphasized that the TV is still the most dominant media and that over 70% of the citizens watch it on a daily basis.

Have a nice weekend!

Always question!

DFC team

The new DFC Magazine issue brings the overview of conspiracy theories surrounding vaccination that are being spread by the media from the region, and which aim at compromising the credibility and trust of citizens in the work of health institutions and the process of immunization. With this Magazine, the guest of our column Interview on the occasion was Dr. Vuk Vukovic, Assistant Professor at Department of Production, Faculty of Dramatic Arts at the UCG. Dr. Vukovic discussed the topic of social media and empathized that only constant education can lead to a revolutionary shift. Likewise, the 28th Magazine issue covers alternative social media such as Parler and Gab, which have become a safe haven for extremists and supporters of former U.S. President Donald Trump.

Download the PDF issue by clicking on the link or the photo below.

Thank you for reading us!

Another Friday has come, together with the new edition of our weekly column On Friday Afternoon. As usual, we will start this week’s overview with the topics related to Montenegro.

One of the burning topics was the apprehension of two Serbian citizens and one Pljevlja inhabitant on the Rance crossing border. The police found 26,500 euros, laptops and Serbian flags in their possession. The Serbia-based news portals wrote that the apprehension occurred only because of the Serbian flags that, allegedly, happened to be there, while omitting the real reason behind the apprehension. That way, the key details of the story were omitted and the narrative on Serbs being endangered in Montenegro has been spread.

Besides this, looking for the culprit, or, identifying the author of a disputable caricature of the Minister of Education, Science, Culture and Sports Vesna Bratic was in the spotlight this week as well, therefore, the social media decided to assume the role of a detective. There are two suspects, while none of them is the culprit. When the public was informed about this, it was already too late – the damage has been done. The DFC reacted in the context of this issue, but the active internet community actors in Montenegro such as the media, meme pages, activists, and key decision-makers need to help us ease the tensions and raise awareness of the importance of critical thinking and observing. Otherwise, it is just a matter of time when each of us will become a target.

Telegram application is still dominant among right-wing supporters and proved to be an excellent field for organization and initiation of coordinated actions on other social media. One of the examples is the group The Books of Knjige that was targeted by a right-wing Telegram group Nju Ejdž Četnici (New Age Chetniks) because they spoke about meme pages from Montenegro, admins’ identities, and those who allegedly finance them in their radio show from January 22. Members of this group received a link to the TBOK Facebook page with a task to act in coordination and spam with comments.

We are moving to Europe where the European Commission has told Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Microsoft to continue with their monthly reports on efforts to tackle fake news, especially on COVID-19, for another six months. The companies, together with TikTok and advertisers, have signed the European Union’s code of practice to tackle the spread of disinformation on their platforms and had to submit reports on their efforts during an initial six-month period. The European Commission said that the reports will continue for another six months because of their relevance during the virus pandemic.

Finally, here’s a friendly reminder to watch our final, fifth episode of the DFC podcast Under the Loupe. Our guest was Milivoje Pantovic, an independent investigative journalist based in Belgrade, with whom we discussed the Chinese propaganda during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pantovic specialized in the fields of interior and foreign policy and culture. He worked as a journalist and editor in Serbian news agencies Tanjug and Beta, the television B92 and BK, the newspaper Politika, and he is cooperating with numerous foreign media as well.

Publishing of an inappropriate caricature of Vesna Bratic, the acting Minister of Education, Science, Culture and Sports, which is being spread on social media, provoked public anger for a reason.

Basic State Prosecutor’s Office in Podgorica file a case against John Doe for the offense that ridicules both the Minister and the State of Montenegro.

Discrediting, sexism, brutal attack on dignity, misogyny… those are just a couple of labels that numerous NGOs and public and political figures from Montenegro and the region utilized to rebuke this montage or caricature.

As the police have not identified the author of this debatable work yet, social media decided to assume the role of a detective. Led by emotions, the social media users could not wait for the Name to emerge. Two persons are suspects, but none of them is the culprit for this act. When the public was informed about this, it was already too late – the damage has been done.

Meme page Bestebe posted the name of the famous caricaturist Luka Lagator, without offering any proof for the claims. It did not take too long for the post to be shared, and the mass to become fervent. However, we did not expect an MP in the Montenegrin Parliament to publish this piece of disinformation and therefore contribute to its spreading online, damaging the reputation of a renowned Montenegrin artist from Cetinje. Marko Milacic, an MP in the Parliament of Montenegro and the President of the Prava Crna Gora party (True Montenegro), posted the following on his Facebook page, only eight minutes after the abovementioned meme page: This is not the first time for Luka Lagator, the author of the disgusting illustration of Minister Vesna Bratic to do something like this: When Miodrag Lekic was the presidential candidate, he illustrated him basically as a corpse. Shameless!

And even before Lagator had a chance to deny these claims, numerous threats, calling for lynching, and assaults on social media began. Due to the inappropriate comments, we will not quote them, but we believe that all of you came across at least one inappropriate post on the mentioned topic. The reasonable people that criticized the finger-pointing were the minority; therefore, they were powerless to influence further development of this event.

Luka Lagator said that he was horrified and speechless when he found out that MP Marko Milacic had posted on his Facebook a false claim that he was the author of the inappropriate and disgusting illustration that he scornfully reprimands, and which portrays Minister Bratic. He also announced a lawsuit against all of those who falsely accused him.

Another arbitrary claim

Three days later, almost the same situation occurred. Niksic inhabitant Nebojsa Kasalica was also targeted, but slightly more proof was offered. The alleged screenshots of a private Viber communication between Kasalica (allegedly the admin of one of the popular meme pages) and another unknown person appeared on social media. The screenshot reads that the author of the debatable illustration is known.

Kasalica denied that he had anything to do with the caricature and he was acquitted after having given the statement in the Police Station in Niksic and after the examination of his laptop and cellphone. He is also preparing the lawsuit against the persons spreading lies about him, as he wrote on Facebook.

Unfortunately, Viber correspondence that the unknown author set up in order to target Kasalica was a sufficient piece of evidence that initiated the attack on him, which the majority did not question.

However, it turned out later that it was easy to determine the truthfulness from the beginning. The photography of Kasalica, used in a montage, differs from his Viber profile picture that he has not changed for four years. Therefore, its author turned to be clumsy.

Both cases will receive a legal epilogue by filing a lawsuit and complaint, but this will not solve a deeply rooted problem of believing in anything that is launched on the internet.

For quite some time, the Digital Forensic Center has been trying to improve people’s understanding by raising awareness of the current internet phenomena, pointing out to the increasingly present issue of hate speech, finger-pointing, spreading disinformation, and other negative products of the modern digital era.

Active internet community actors in Montenegro such as the media, meme pages that became a significant factor, activists and key decision-makers need to help us ease the tensions and raise awareness of the importance of critical thinking and observing. Otherwise, it is just a matter of time when each of us will become a target. And if we keep up this pace, it is going to happen, very soon. There is no need to mention the implications that these events will have on the fragmentation of Montenegrin society.

The Under the Loop podcast represents a short video form of a conversation with the experts in certain fields, in order to raise awareness of disinformation, media literacy, and technologies.

In the final episode 005 of our pilot podcast, we are talking with Milivoje Pantovic, an independent investigative journalist based in Belgrade, about the Chinese propaganda during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He specialized in the fields of interior and foreign policy and culture. He worked as a journalist and editor in Serbian news agencies Tanjug and Beta, the television B92 and BK, the newspaper Politika, and he is cooperating with numerous foreign media as well.