Joe Biden won the U.S. presidential election but its echo is not dying away even twenty days after the polling stations had closed. We were waiting quite a long time for the winner to be announced since the counting was additionally slowed down due to a high number of mail-in-ballots. Besides, the epilogue of the court proceedings that the campaign headquarters of the current president Donald Trump initiated was waited upon.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris announced the victory on November 10. The U.S. mainstream media did the same, including Fox News, close to the Republicans. The world leaders, including the ones from the Western Balkans, congratulated the President-elect on his victory.

Besides, Donald Trump did not accept the defeat for a long time. In his first address after the closure of the polling stations, Trump stated that he won the election, then that the election was rigged and that he would seek justice before the court. His social media posts were regularly flagged as containing false, disputed, or misleading information.

For Trump and his campaign headquarters, the mail-in-ballots were debatable. They thought that the majority of the votes in the states where Trump had lost should be annulled. Trump used the same narrative on the election fraud during the election campaign on the occasion of this but also the previous presidential election, which the DFC already analyzed. What posed a problem for Trump is the fact that the Republican officials from Arizona, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan – states in which the result was debatable, according to Trump – claimed that there were no irregularities. Equally, the courts in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Arizona rejected a lot of complaints initiated by Trump’s legal team.

Trump’s PR team from Serbia

Who will take over the White House for the following four years is of huge significance for the whole world, including the Western Balkans. That is one of the reasons why the media from the region were carefully monitoring and reporting on the post-election developments in the USA.

Donald Trump may have lost the uncompromising support of Fox News but one can conclude that he is still enjoying the support of the Serbia media corpus. And while it is understandable that the developments in the USA were one of the main topics in the Serbian media, it is certainly less understandable why the majority of them accepted wholeheartedly Trump’s claims on the rigged election and started defending him.

Besides the key narrative on the rigged election, the media wrote about the unrest in the USA, the crash of the U.S. democracy as well as the groups and persons behind the election fraud. Also, a part of the media directly attacked Biden, trying to present him as a threat not only to Serbia but to the whole world. The analysis of the Serbian media content in relation to the U.S. election displays a clear gradation of sensationalism. Suspicious developments on Election Day in a week turned into the epic fraud plotted by the deep state, mainstream media, and George Soros himself.

The Second American Civil War and the crash of democracy

After Trump’s statement that he would go to court, the supporters of both candidates started gathering in multiple U.S. cities. The President’s supporters gathered around the polling stations seeking that the counting be stopped, while Biden’s supporters celebrated and requested that the votes be counted. The protests were generally peaceful with a small number of isolated incidents. However, the news portals Alo, Sputnik Serbia, and presented the developments in the USA as a start of the new Civil War and hereby tried to depict the USA as a country in turmoil. Interestingly, Sputnik Serbia published a video from Minneapolis made at the protests Black Lives Matter held in May this year in a text about the unrest after the presidential election.

Half of Trump’s posts on social media were marked as false or incomplete information, while his address from the White House was cut away by the media outlets ABC, CBS, and NBC for the same reasons. Republika, Informer, Sputnjik Srbija, and immediately started defending Trump, not taking into account the misleading claims and accusations that the outgoing US President made without any proof. For them, the US developments were obstruction, censure, and the end to the freedom of speech, scandal, and new totalitarianism. The main message of these media was that the powerful Western mainstream media and social media owners undermined democracy and abolished the freedom of speech and that their sole mission was to oust Donald Trump.

Biden, an enemy of Serbs, will destabilize the world

Since the 2016 Presidential election, Donald Trump has been portrayed as a friend of the Serbs in most of the Serbian media, while his challenger has had the role of villain. The narrative that Joe Biden is one of the biggest enemies of Serbs, which has been present on social networks and in the Serbian media for more than a decade, has been brought to the fore again before, after, and during the November election. Referring to the comments of the journalist and political critic Milan Jovanovic, the news portals Kurir, Srbija Danas, Nacionalist and wrote, without providing any evidence, that Biden has been financially supported over the years by the Albanian lobby in the US.

Another narrative that could be found in the Serbian media presents Biden as a person who will start another armed conflict. As his victory in the election was just around the corner, the news portals Sputnjik Srbija and Novi Standard were announcing the new Cold War and the return of the United States to the aggressive war policy, while referring to the statements of Russian Senator Aleksey Pushkov and Willy Wimmer, a former Vice President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE. After the General Service Administration, the first official institution, had declared Biden’s victory, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg talked to the newly elected president and congratulated him on his victory. The Alo news portal entitled the news with the following headline: IT HAS BEGUN! Biden met the General, they are planning news strikes!¸with the article not corresponding to headline.

Election fraud, deep state, and Soros

The most visible narrative in the Serbian media was the one supporting Trump’s claims that the U.S. election was allegedly rigged. On the very first day of the election, Informer published a text reading that something strange is going on in the key states, while in the days that followed, something strange became the greatest election fraud and a coup d’état. The background of the election fraud that the Serbian news portals and tabloids were buzzing about had been uncovered. Different conspiracy theories entered the scene, with the main role allocated to George Soros and the deep state. Besides, the media have always used individuals’ claims and overall developments in the United States to modify them with their interpretations. For example, after the courts had dismissed a large number of lawsuits that Donald Trump’s team had filed, the Serbian version of Sputnik published a couple of days later that George Soros has been buying the American judiciary for years.

Donald Trump’s legal team headed by Rudy Giuliani has dropped the lawsuits filed to the court in Michigan. The same day, Giuliani presented a conspiracy theory at the press conference that George Soros and the deceased president of Venezuela Hugo Chavez were behind the election fraud. Sputnik Serbia, AloInformer, and Espreso republished the news without previously challenging it or questioning Giuliani’s assumptions.

Pro-Serbian media and news portals in Montenegro

Pro-Serbian media and news portals in Montenegro were also following the developments after the U.S. election with much attention, presenting similar or almost the same narratives as the ones found in the Serbian media. Even though the articles of IN4S, Borba, and Pogled were less sensational, they resembled the Serbian articles almost to the bone and they were mostly republishing the articles from Sputnik Serbia.

From the above-mentioned media, IN4S dealt with the U.S. election the most. Analyst Igor Damjanovic talked for IN4S about coup d’état in the United States and the influence of the deep state on the U.S. Election. Danilo Tvrdisic, a journalist and a publicist, talked about the election fraud and different conspiracy theories while appearing in the Serbian world TV show on the National IN4S TV. In that TV show, Tvrdisic consolidated all the narratives related to the U.S. election, which were emphasized both in the Serbian media and on social networks.

Two events out of which one already occurred and the other is ahead of us are again reviving the narrative on the negation of the Montenegrin statehood and identity. The first event were the elections (held on August 30) that were won by the then opposition parties, which resulted in the change of the government. The other one is the census planned for 2021.

In the post-election months, which brought the shift on the Montenegrin political scene, the actors wanting to make another Serbian state out of Montenegro are being increasingly present. Equally, they are negating the fundamental values of the Montenegrin anti-fascism and destroying the state’s secularism. The planned campaign reflected in the negation of identity values of the Montenegrin society is very intense.

Federal State of Serbia, Montenegro and the Republic of Srpska

The most prominent advocate of the union of Montenegro, Serbia, and the Republic of Srpska into one federal state is undoubtedly Aleksandar Rakovic, Serbian historian and ideologist of the Greater Serbia project – the Serbian world. In his interview for Novosti, Rakovic assessed that after the regime had changed in Montenegro, the future of Montenegro-Serbia relations laid in the union of Belgrade, Podgorica, and Banjaluka into one federal state. While explaining that idea, he said that both Serbia and Montenegro are the historical states of the Serbs since, as he stated, both countries are connected by the Serbian statehood.

In October this year at the conference The position of Serbs after the fall of Milo Djukanovic’s regime, Rakovic presented a new strategy of the Serbian world towards Montenegro. The strategy specifies that Serbs in Montenegro should become the relative majority on the census, and subsequently, that the union of all Serbs’ states on the Western Balkans be presented as a legitimate initiative. During his speech, he stated that the Serbian national idea is mainstreamed in Montenegrin politics and the union cannot be taboo. It is a completely legitimate and legal idea. The union of all Serbs’ states in the area of ex-Yugoslavia is a completely legal idea, Rakovic said.

Minister of Internal Affairs of Serbia Aleksandar Vulin also has a positive attitude toward the Serbian world and the union of all Serbs under the auspices of the Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. The last accusation in the Bosniak and Montenegrin media is that Vucic is creating the Serbian world. I believe and hope that the accusation is true; Vucic should be creating the Serbian world. Belgrade needs to gather all the Serbs within and around itself, and the President of Serbia is the President of all Serbs, Minister Vulin stated in September.

Negating the Montenegrin identity

The narrative negating Montenegrin identity is becoming increasingly dominant. Therefore, Dr. Radmilo Marojevic, former Dean of the Faculty of Philology in Belgrade, stated on the panel discussion held in the Serbian house that Montenegrins, Bosniaks, and Croats living in Montenegro were falsely declaring themselves to be of such ethnicities, referring to the local, geographical or imported identity detriment.  Dr. Marojevic thinks that Serbs or Shqiptars (author’s comment: pejorative name for Albanians) have their ethnic orientationIn the ethnic sense, neither have Montenegrins ever existed nor do they exist today nor could they exist; this platitude can only destroy Montenegro as a historical reality and, of course, the native people of Montenegro, dr Marojevic said.

Member of the Main Board of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) Vladimir Djukanovic negated the Montenegrin nation by equalizing Montenegrins and Serbs as one nation. Appearing on a TV show Serbian World on the national television IN4S and commenting on the work of deceased Metropolitan Amfilohije, Djukanovic said that he revived the living Serbian organism and Montenegrins, emphasizing that when he says Montenegrins, he means Serbs above all. In order to confirm the statements, he quoted deceased Archpriest-Staurophore Lazar Milin who said that a Montenegrin who is not a Serb is not a Montenegrin either.

The census has shaken the public

The planned census in Montenegro is presented as an issue of the survival of the country and the people. And while in the world the census represents a collection of statistical data, in Montenegro it is a political issue and a battleground of both sides.

The topic of the census in Montenegro is increasingly present in the Serbian media, even though not to the same extent as the texts on the new Government constitution. The dominant narrative is that Montenegrins are scared of the census due to the inevitable increase of the number of Serbs; hence the proposal to postpone the census. News portal Alo states that the outgoing government and the Centre for Democratic Transition (CDT) close to them have been leading the campaign in a panicky manner in order to postpone the regular census. Sputnik Serbia, inter alia, writes that the postponement of the census represents a humiliation of the ethnic Montenegrins and that due to the governance of the outgoing regime, the clear criteria of what it means to be a Montenegrin have been lost.

Besides the media, the politicians and activists express their attitudes on the census in Montenegro. Mayor of Budva Marko Bato Carevic explained that he would use his position to help the Serbs in Montenegro be equal. As he says, that is what he is expecting after the regular census scheduled for the next year. Until now, people did not have a right to express their true opinions and feelings. My goal is for this to happen for the first time on this census, in order to obtain a real image about our society, mayor of Budva and member of the DF stated.

Cedomir Antic, a Serbian historian and one of the advocates of the Greater Serbia project – the Serbian World, also has a plan for the census. He assessed that the Serbs should be a majority on the upcoming census in Montenegro, while the Montenegrins should account for 25%. He believes that Montenegro will remain independent and multi-ethnic if the Serbs get an opportunity to develop themselves freely in democracy and equality. Serbs will account for 50% of the population, while Montenegrins will account for 25%. That is the truth and reality; it has nothing to do with the current government, but whether the country is free or democratic, Antic said.

Serbian world – an illusion

While appearing on Different radio connection (Drugačija radio veza), Sonja Biserko, president of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, was asked whether Biden’s victory would destroy the project of the Serbian World. She responded that this project objectively does not stand much of a chance. If it did, it would probably have stronger support from the international actors. Due to the international context, which is still fluid, and the international order is not consolidated, the Serbian nationalists think that the issue of borders has not been resolved yet and that a convenient moment is needed. It is an illusion that an end will be put on, but Serbia is wasting its historical time by remaining committed to that project, Biserko said.

Yearly research of the Digital Forensic Center (DFC), encompassing 11,104 articles with Crna Gora (Montenegro) as the keyword, provides an insight into narratives and the amount at which they were spread by the most read Serbian news portals in Montenegro.

The analysis showed that in the period October 1, 2019 – September 30, 2020, the news portals Alo, Espreso, Blic, Srbija danas, Kurir, Informer, and Novosti had continuously been the most read Serbian media in Montenegro. At the same time, they were the ones that had spread the content of debatable quality.

This quantitative and qualitative analysis of the Serbian media outlets’ content on Montenegro reveals the effort to combine real facts with the fake ones, the exaggerations, or the presentation of facts out of the context in order to shape public opinion.

Such reporting leads to dangerous prejudices against Montenegro, its citizens, and institutions among a large number of people in Serbia, but also in Montenegro, having in mind the reach and the readership of these portals in our country as well. It is evident from the foregoing that the Serbian media have been paying great attention to Montenegro, especially since the beginning of the processions, but in an extremely sensationalist and inciting way, often taking information out of the context, violating journalism ethics and human moral code of conduct.

Download the analysis by clicking on the following link or the photo below.

The U.S. elections have been always globally followed with great attention. However, the attention that this years’ election has attracted (holding on November 3, 2020) has been additionally increased due to the specific circumstances they are going to be held. This is the year in which Trump’s impeachment has been initiated that has heated the campaign long before its official beginning. Likewise, deep race-based divisions in the country have been sharpened by The Black Lives Matter protests, and, at the same time, the world was ruled and significantly reshaped by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the campaign rallies were reduced, therefore the campaign was led mostly via electronic media and social media, as in many other countries of the world (Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina). That type of communication with the electoral body proved to be a fruitful ground for spreading fake news, disinformation, and conspiracy theories. Owing, among others, to President Donald Trump as well, that was the period when specific conspiracy theories were promoted globally. QAnon, which has become a globally recognizable and widely supported movement, is the best example. This was recently analyzed by the DFC.

Hence the impression that Russia’s hacking and misuse of social media to manipulate public opinion in the U.S. four years ago caught the system unprepared. However, fake news has become mainstream nowadays, maybe just because of Trump. The narrative on Russia’s interference has been again one of the main topics of the 2020 Presidential election campaign.  Besides, exposing people to information overload, and filling the atmosphere with hate speech, extremism and disinformation have weakened America’s democratic and critical- thinking capacities, making people vulnerable to fake news.

Even though people perceive the danger of fake news spreading, the Pew Research Center’s research from June 2019 showed that 70% of Americans thought that fake news had undermined people’s trust in government institutions and that the quality of news spread daily had made people unable to recognize them or to question their truthfulness.

Trump, conspiracy theories and disinformation

During the election campaign, QAnon conspiracy theory – the theory that Barack Obama’s administration had faked Osama bin Laden’s murder – has the wind in its sails. President Donald Trump retweeted the post on his account. The conspiracy theorists interpreted his move as a confirmation of the official American institutions. The news was soon denied by the SEAL team that took part in catching and killing Osama bin Laden. Trump justified his move with claims that he only shared someone’s opinion. He is known for (in)direct support of the QAnon movement, even though the FBI identified it as a domestic terrorism threat.

A disputable tweet that Trump retweeted 

In the first presidential debate, Trump and his supporters had been accusing Joe Biden and his son Hunter on social media of corruption, referring to unverified evidence, such as emails recently published by New York Post and which were passed them by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Although misleading, Trump’s statement bore fruit, as his comments directed attention to Biden’s son and his work. This was confirmed by The New York Times’ analysis on Google searches and Facebook posts during and after the debate. According to the Google Trends data, Hunter Biden was searched on Google three times more during the debate compared to the previous events. The same was seen on Facebook. We witnessed similar and visibly successful Trump’s move in 2016 when the narrative on the corruption of the then Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton was created.

Handling pandemic one of the main campaign’s topics

Trump’s managing of the country during the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of the U.S. economy were defining issues of the 2020 presidential election. The topic had been spread on social media via memes about Trump’s opponent Biden, which suggested that if he wins, he would lock down our nation until we have a vaccine ready. The meme was marked on Facebook as fake news, but this did not stop its further sharing.

According to the polls and media analyses, the state of Pennsylvania was assessed as one of the key states that will elect the next U.S. president. The moment the polls showed that Biden has a lead in that state, Trump started an aggressive campaign, providing false and misleading information on ballot papers and voting process. He claimed he could lose in that state only if electoral fraud and manipulation had occurred. The Republicans used the same narrative in their 2016 election campaign and on the 2016 Election Day. Current Vice-President Mike Pence said then that the electoral fraud had been seen in the state of Indiana.

The scope of fake news the people are presented with is best reflected in the FactCheck organization’s analysis that analyzed all speeches of President Trump on the rallies during the election campaign from October 12 to October 16, 2020. The analysis showed that out of all six speeches, averaging about one hour and 20 minutes per speech, Trump had made 46 false and misleading claims. During the same period, Biden had four stump speeches and each of his speech lasted less than 30 minutes. During his stump speeches, he made nine false, misleading, or exaggerated claims.

Facebook and Twitter against disinformation during the campaign

The heated situation in the U.S. made giants such as Facebook and Twitter introduce restrictions during the campaign and voting. They presented mechanisms on how to stop the spreading of disinformation, including clearer labeling of misinformation. To combat foreign interference, both platforms have strengthened the account protection, particularly the accounts of election candidates and all other state officials. The money was invested in projects that are developing media literacy to help people to understand better the information on the internet. Likewise, both networks are actively removing posts aimed at discouraging people from voting and reducing voter turnout. Due to familiar events that followed the 2016 presidential election, social media are under additional scrutiny of the state institutions, and shortly after voting, the CEOs of both platforms will testify before the Congress.

Prime Minister-designate of Montenegro Zdravko Krivokapic is a target of the Twitter bot accounts, which, with concerted efforts, attacked his attitudes on the formation of a technocratic government.

The bot network consisting of more than 80 bot accounts from three families – Andric, Ivanovic, and Popovic are attacking Krivokapic on Twitter for his determination that all the minister-candidates of the new Government should be subject to the qualification verification for their designated positions.

Analyzing the bot network, we concluded that each member of the Popovic family was created on the same day (October 13) while the Andric family was created a couple of days later (on October 17 and 18). The accounts with the surname Ivanovic were created on October 25.

The accounts were not active until yesterday’s tweet of the Prime Minister-designate Krivokapic in which he emphasized that all the minister-candidates of the new Government should be subject to the qualification verification for their designated positions, adding that that did not exclude the politicians if their biography satisfied the criteria for a proposed position.

Subsequently, a bot account @AndricDanijela4 retweeted Krivokapic’s post and criticized his attitudes. Soon after, the bot network has been activated.

Almost all accounts belonging to this bot network retweeted the @AndricDanijela4 tweet, with no likes. This indicated that the goal was to amplify the reach of the existing content and not to create a new and an original one – which is one of the key features of bot accounts.

All accounts with Popovic surname had just one tweet while the Andric accounts had two of them or more, with the same narrative. All tweets mentioned Nebojsa Medojevic, leader of the Movement for Changes (PzP), one of the biggest critics of the Prime Minister-designate. Additionally, some accounts from the Andric family were defending Medojevic’s attitudes, stating that the PzP’s leader is the only one having made some concrete moves for all these years.

All the profile photos were created using artificial intelligence and some websites such as thispersondoesnotexist.  The algorithm of this platform is trained on a huge database from the real photos, after which it uses a type of neural network known as generative adversarial network (GAN) to create new examples. Every time you refresh the website, the network will create a new image of a face. All the profile photos were created using artificial intelligence and some websites such as thispersondoesnotexist.  The algorithm of this platform is trained on a huge database from the real photos, after which it uses a type of neural network known as generative adversarial network (GAN) to create new examples. Every time you refresh the website, the network will create a new image of a face.

A particular number of photos presenting Asian people indicates to the truthfulness of this statement.

Moreover, the position of eyes on all profile photos is identical to and forms a straight line, which also indicates that the photos were created using artificial intelligence.

Bot accounts are usually created during significant social and political events in a country with the main goal of directing a public opinion in the wanted direction. Let us remind that the DFC discovered in April a bot network connected with the ruling party in Serbia that was promoting the Chinese aid to that country during the coronavirus pandemic. Soon after that, the DFC also discovered a new bot network from Serbia whose main target was Montenegro.

Once perceived as an underground conspiracy theory in the U.S., QAnon is becoming mainstream and more real, with its effect being visible in our region as well.

Conspiracy theories commonly known as QAnon appeared in the U.S. in 2017 claiming that there was a deep state. With the coronavirus pandemic spreading all over the world, the theories spread outside the U.S. borders as well, turning into anti-vaxxer, anti-government and anti-5G protest movements and theories boosted by disinformation. That unspecific and undefined trait of theirs is a scheme that the QAnon supporters used to attract so many people of different ideologies. They can choose from a wide range of narratives, therefore some are against the establishment, some against vaccines, and some against 5G technology.

According to the movement’s claims, the international pedophilia ring of elite groups is abducting and abusing children with the purpose of obtaining a rejuvenation medicine from their blood. This elite, which allegedly includes Hillary Clinton and George Soros, strives to take over the world by establishing a shadow government that would control the world’s politics behind the scene. On the other hand, there is American President Donald Trump who is fighting the deep state.

The movement is grounded in posts which appeared on an internet forum 4chan in October 2017, posted by a username Q Clearance Patriot (Q Clearance is the highest level of security clearance required by the U.S. Department of Energy to access secret information on the nuclear weapon) that the movement got its name QAnon – short of Q-Anonymous. Without any evidence, Q stated that Donald Trump was waging war against the deep state and other elite groups and that he planned to attack a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles. Back then, Q claimed that he had been working as an intelligence agent and that he had access to secret information. That way, his criticizing posts gained in popularity and were spread all over Facebook, Twitter, Telegram, Instagram, and YouTube.

The Balkans and QAnon

QAnon is now part of our everyday life and as it uses social media as its main base, the movement has mobilized a large number of people to protest across Europe. The number of tweets related to QAnon has increased from 5 million in 2017 to 12 million this year all over the world, with Germany as fifth and Great Britain second, right after the U.S.

The DFC analysis of the internet content related to QAnon in the six Western Balkan countries showed huge growth in popularity of this phenomenon in the period March-November 2020 (56.9k posts), which is an increase of 147% compared to the whole last year (38.6k posts).

That the QAnon influence is not visible only on social media platforms confirms the protest gatherings organized due to the COVID-19 preventive measures and the obligatory wearing of masks, which moved from Berlin, Bucharest, and London to Podgorica, Belgrade, Tirana, and Zagreb. Without providing any evidence, the protesters were alerting that the pandemic was a conspiracy of the cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who were controlling the world, that the masks could not protect you from the virus or that Bill Gates was planning to implant a chip in people through vaccines, whose production he supported financially. If all of the stated does not speak for itself, it is important to mention that disinformation is a key communication tool of this movement, neither facts nor science.

Anti-vaxxers hand in hand with QAnon

Among many conspiracy theories, the narrative on the adverse effects of vaccines stands out. Aroused initiatives against obligatory vaccination have been a topic for many years now all over the world, although the anti-vaxxer movement is not widespread in Montenegro.

Among those who spread this theory in our region, the website and the Facebook page of Pravo na izbor with Dr. Jovana Stojkovic as a founder stand out. In December 2018, a group of doctors filed a lawsuit against Dr. Stojkovic before the Court of Honor of the Regional Medical Chamber in Belgrade. They required that her medical license be revoked due to spreading panic and public performances that caused a decrease in vaccination and eventually a measles outbreak in Serbia. The court proceedings were suspended because it was believed that her media performances did not present enough evidence to revoke the license. However, in March 2019, the proceedings were resumed before the same Court as it was determined that Dr. Stojkovic’s activism had been indeed against people’s health.

Besides Dr. Stojkovic, Dr. Nada Kosic, MP in the Parliament of Serbia until recently, an internist and professor at the Medical Faculty in Belgrade, has been equally active in spreading of the narratives, as well as Dr. Lidija Gaski from Croatia who strongly advocates for the right to choose to get a vaccine, which is legally binding in that country.

Protests of parents more frequent

As the mass protests against obligatory vaccination are still active all over the world, the supporters of the QAnon movement have embraced them and used them to spread influence and their own agenda. Therefore, it is not unusual to see their slogans at the protests, which were seen in Belgrade where the protest called We don’t Give You the Children was organized on October 17 in front of the Presidency. The protest was organized to point to the violation of the fundamental rights of parents who were deprived of the right to make decisions regarding the vaccination of their children. The fact that the Center for Social Work had been taking their kids away due to poverty was unacceptable according to their claims, and they added that the rights of children had been violated at schools since they must wear protective masks. Dr. Stojkovic emphasized that such problems were particularly visible since President Vucic is in power. As she said, he is not actually the President of Serbia, but the country was controlled by NGOs, which is one of the QAnon movement’s ideas.

During one of the similar previous protests, organized on September 7 in front of the Institute of Public Health Batut due to announced vaccine testing for coronavirus, Dr. Jovana Stojkovic stated that the Minister of Education of Serbia had said that children would be taken away from their parents if they had not been vaccinated. The gathered people displayed the slogans We don’t Give you the Children and Stop Taking Children Away, emphasizing that every parent had a right to choose what was the best for their child. These slogans are similar to those promoted by the QAnon supporters: Save Our Children, Choose a Side, Freedom not Fear, Stop Child Trafficking, which could be seen on the streets of London many times since August.

In Montenegro, parents from Bar, Podgorica, and Herceg Novi have been actively protesting against the wearing of masks in schools because, as they claim, they are harmful to children’s health. Advocating for the non-effectiveness of masks does not contribute to virus prevention, particularly in such a bad situation that Montenegro is in right now.

A similar campaign lead under the #SaveTheChildren hashtag and initiated to raise awareness of the problem of child sex trafficking that was out of control in the U.S. and all around the world has gained popularity on social media this summer. The campaign attracted the attention of the QAnon movement, which also has started to promote the #SaveTheChildren hashtag to amplify its reach on social media.

According to the QAnon supporters, face masks which children must wear due to the coronavirus pandemic pose a serious problem because they make it harder for them to cry for help if attacked.

Promoting the movement on social media

Even though Facebook removed groups and pages such as Q-ANON Bosna i Hercegovina, Q-Anon Serbian version, QAnon Serbia WWG1WGA, QANON/Buđenje Srbije, Qanon – Srbija, Q/QANON ARMY Srbija/Serbia, Qanon Balkan, there are others which promote the same or similar theories on this and other platforms.

Using keywords related to conspiracy theories of the QAnon movement, we analyzed posts on Facebook, which is the dominant platform in Montenegro and the region. The graphs show that over 19,000 posts and almost 1.4 million interactions have been spread on the internet for the six Western Balkan countries since the beginning of this year. The largest number of posts was registered in the period when the COVID-19 pandemic started spreading all over the region (March-May 2020) and when many conspiracy theories started circulating due to many questions surrounding the pandemic.

Graph showing the number of posts and interactions on Facebook in six Western Balkans countries since the beginning of the year

When it comes to the spreading of such content, a recently created closed Facebook group called BalkAnon with 2,000 members stands out. It is followed by Pravo na izbor (24,000 likes), Pravo na slobodu (93.000 likes), Protiv novog svetskog poretka (30.000 likes), Orvel civilizacija (11.000 likes), including many other pages, groups, and individuals.

Apart from online groups and pages, the deep state theory finds its supporters among members of Montenegro’s political life. Nebojsa Medojevic is the first who comes to mind since he uses social media and the Parliamentary sessions to speak frequently about a secret cabal that controls the world, which is financed by George Soros and that Donald Trump is fighting against. He recently stated that Montenegro has been controlled by a secret organization for years, which never votes and does not have any democratic legitimacy.

The YouTube video platform revealed several channels promoting conspiracy theories. BalkanInfo, known to a broader audience, often invites guests who speak about Satan-worshipers, deep state, and vaccines. The same stands for Slavija info TV, while the FES TV and Nauka i misterije Balkan channels openly declare themselves as supporters of alternative views on the world, resolute to uncover mysteries and disclose secrets.

Twitter, the platform on the rise in the region, did not discover any accounts that were exclusively dedicated to such content. However, several users were tweeting, among other stuff, about the deep state, global Satan-worshipers, the ineffectiveness of masks, etc. Some of them include @NebojsaMedojevi, @VladoGeorgiev, @SvilarovNikola, @peterstoun, and @Kosovo_SRB_1244.

To sum up, although QAnon conspiracy theories are not based on scientific facts, their impact is real and visible. The greatest threat of this movement is creating a wider gap between what the truth is and what a large number of people would believe the truth is, when in reality – it is not. That way, conspiracy theories lead to long-term consequences: they downplay the importance of the fight against the pandemic, undermine the trust in vaccines, science, and common sense in general. Likewise, they mix their anti-Semitic and alt-right views with the theory that coronavirus is a conspiracy that deprives people of their freedoms and that people are being controlled by 5G technology and chips.

Yearly research of the Digital Forensic Center (DFC), encompassing 10,630 articles with Montenegro as the keyword, provides an insight into narratives and the amount at which they were spread by the most read Serbian news portals in Montenegro.

The analysis showed that the news portals Alo, Espreso, Blic, Srbija danas, Kurir, Informer, and Novosti had been the most read Serbian media in Montenegro continuously during the last 12 months, but at the same time, they had been spreading the content of a debatable quality.

Daily coverage of the Serbian media on Montenegro would not be particular at all, had it not been dominated by disinformation, fake news, sensational headlines, and the narratives addressing the broad audience.

The monthly media reports showed that the Serbian media were very much read in Montenegro, which raises concerns even more on the possibility of manipulating the Montenegrin public.

Given that the Montenegrin social and political scene this and last year was marked by big events: adoption of the Law on Freedom of Religion and Belief, the processions resulting therefrom, the coronavirus and the parliamentary elections that had brought about their own narratives, the negative narratives were launched almost on a daily basis.

The most frequent narrative was: Montenegro is a criminal and captured state. The adjective criminal sends out a message that the criminal activities in the region are originating from Montenegro and that the most notorious criminal organizations, the most vicious homicides, robberies, kidnappings, and drug dealing have their roots in Montenegro. While captured means that it is captured both politically and socially. Some of the messages sent out and suggesting bad conditions in Montenegro are: state institutions are captured as they are dominated by corruption and nepotism, the Montenegrin regime does not respect human or religious rights and it aims at creating a private state.

The narrative that has been filling the Serbian media columns for months and was particularly popular with the processions going on, refers to the endangered Serbs in Montenegro, deprived of any rights, which was supported by the claims that Serbia would protect them from the discrimination of the Montenegrin regime. Besides the protection of Serbs, the articles persisted in aiding and supporting the Serbian shrines in Montenegro that the Montenegro regime aims at seizing.

Key events through the lens of the Serbian media

The adoption of the Law on Freedom of Religion and Belief, the processions, and the developments in Budva gave rise to another narrative: Montenegro is an unstable state where riots and civil war may occur and where the Montenegrin regime is using repression. On a daily basis, they have been reporting that the Montenegrin regime was using the police force to apprehend, beat and persecute both the believers and the clergy, that it does not allow the freedom of expression on social media, that it has been attacking the opponents in every possible way. To strengthen the narrative, even the Army of Montenegro was targeted by the Serbian media, in the sense that it had been taken by the government to the streets to prevent the processions.

Even the global coronavirus pandemic did not lower the tone of the Serbian online media. Moreover, they were writing that the Montenegrin government was unable to cope with the virus and that it had been hiding the numbers of the infected. The fact that we had been the last country in Europe to report on positive cases and first to declare corona free destination did not prevent the Serbian tabloids from continuing their hunt by publishing that we had neither laboratories nor PCR tests. Neither have the démenti of the Institute for Public Health and the Government of Montenegro stopped them from thwarting Montenegro’s success in the fight against coronavirus.

At the time of the coronavirus emerging and the NKT’s preventive measures introduction, the narrative of coronavirus being an excuse for the government to stop the continuation of processions was brought to the fore.

The influence of a negative campaign on the tourist industry’s collapse

Montenegro’s tourist industry, which has been for years targeted through the Serbian media’s steady pattern, was clinched by disinformation and fake news. However, the epidemiological situation and measures introduced due to the coronavirus pandemic had additionally deepened and intensified the campaign of deteriorating the image of Montenegro as a tourist destination. The negative propaganda was visible in calling on the Serbian citizens not to go to Montenegro on holiday because the coronavirus was flaring up there, the beaches were empty, and the prices were extremely high. Their main ace in the hole was that the Serbian tourists were not welcomed there. The decision not to open the borders with Serbia due to the unfavorable epidemiological situation in the country and the risk of the virus importation was presented in the Serbian tabloids as a politically motivated decision, which causes further tension between Podgorica and Belgrade.

Elections and constitution of the Government

All of the tabloids and media in Serbia paid great attention to the parliamentary elections in Montenegro held on August 30. The narratives and sensational headlines were coming one after another day by day until the very Election day. Spreading of negative narratives and disinformation had a goal of its own – to create more tension. The dominant narrative was the one about the regime’s continuing with three-decades-long activities of electoral fraud and manipulation to stay in power; this time by vote-buying (IDs), inviting foreigners primarily coming from Kosovo and Albania to vote for the DPS, and by inciting riots. However, none of the stated was supported by evidence.

The constitution of the Government after the elections was the old-new topic, and by that, the occasion for the Serbian media to influence social and political developments in Montenegro additionally through information manipulation. The declaration of election results was followed by the narratives on divisions that occurred in Djukanovic’s DPS, falling apart of the DPS, which was proved by alleged incidents among the party’s representatives, unraveling of a tapestry of crime that has been suffocating the whole country. There were also claims that President Milo Djukanovic could present us with a couple of surprises in order to undermine the constitution of the new Government without the DPS. In his attempts to stay in power, one of the scenarios presented was a declaring of a state of emergency due to the abrupt increase in the number of infected. This was described as a method serving the purpose of possible salvation or prolonging of the regime’s political end. Besides the spreading of these narratives, the Serbian media were regular in the publishing of the statements of the three coalitions’ leaders: For the Future of Montenegro, Peace is Our Nation and It’s in Black and White, along with their further plans. They were also trying to guess who would take the seat of the President of the Parliament, Prime Minister, or who would be entrusted to lead the most important bodies in the new Government.

At the end of the monitored period, the change in the Serbian media narratives regarding Montenegro’s new majority is noticeable. The shift happened because of the signing of the Agreement among the leaders of the three collations on September 9, after which they have become traitors overnight who have turned their backs on Serbs.

Owing to the new Facebook’s advertising policy, these elections were the first we have been able to find out the data on the parties’ spending on Facebook ads.

Using the official Facebook data, the Digital Forensic Center discovered that from August 4 to September 2, the Social Democratic Party spent the largest amount of money – 17,973 euros, followed closely by the Social Democrats with 17,621 euros.

The official page Aleksa Becic – the Democrats paid for the Facebook ads a total of 15,230 euros, the Democratic Party of Socialists paid 14,634, while the Civic Movement URA paid 8,116 euros. The page Zdravko Krivokapic – Za buducnost Crne Gore spent 2,336 euros on sponsored posts.

The Croatian Civic Initiative spent 612 euros on Facebook ads, the Albanian coalition Unanonimously spent 304, the Albanian list 200, the Croatian Reform Party 153, and the Bosniak Party 102 euros. Ahead of the parliamentary elections in Montenegro, Facebook presented the new advertising policy, which refers to our country as well. Now, all political ads must be authorized and provide information on who paid for the ad. Owing to that rule, the recently held parliamentary elections were the first we have been able to find out the data on the parties’ paying for the ads on the most popular social network in our country.

The Election Day in Montenegro was marked by fake news and disinformation both in the media and on social media platforms. All the published projections did not realize in the end – from unrest on the streets in case the ruling government was defeated to Internet outage in the afternoon.

When it comes to the media, the absolute “champion” of fake news was the Belgrade-based news portal – Glas Javnosti (Voice of the public). Therefore, we could read about pre-planned riots and beating of the people, for which the government would blame the opposition. Additionally, we could read that the Montenegrin government was preparing to run over people with trucks. In a text headlined: Scandalous! Montenegrin authorities are preparing to run over the people with trucks! was stated that the authorities ordered the fire department to equip its trucks to break the protests by installing the special metal constructions on the front of the vehicle which would enable the vehicles to efficiently run into the masses.

After that, they claimed that the authorities are planning to break the gathered people into smaller groups using tear gas and water cannons, making room for the reserves and the criminals wearing police uniforms led by Veselin Veljovic to enter the scene, with a task to beat the gathered.

Similar content was found on the other portals where the authors referred to the unanimous sources of the Democratic Party of Socialists, claiming that the government formed the strike force, consisting of the notorious criminals and individuals. As it was stated, they were previously amnestied by the state and they were supposed to be divided and sent to two locations.

Srbija danas continued in that manner, claiming that the well-informed sources from Montenegro discovered that the DPS was planning to cause serious incidents all over the country, even to endanger the lives of the police officers before the closure of the polling stations, in order to make it look like the opposition was behind that. Referring to the statement of attorney Goran Petronijevic, they stated that Milo Djukanovic has helicopters on three locations, which should transport him to Albania if he faces an electoral defeat.

The news portal Alo claimed in a text: “DESPERATE MOVE OF THE DPS! The information from the Secret Service leaked! Milo’s police are ready for action around the Serbian monasteries!”, that the representatives of the Montenegrin security structures will hide a particular quantity of weapons on August 29 (on the eve of the elections) on suitable locations near particular monasteries and other facilities of the Serbian Orthodox Church. According to the text, the plan was “to find” the weapons on Election Day, thanks to the alleged operational engagement, and to accuse the SPC’s representatives in Montenegro of the alleged armed conflict and “the violent overthrow of the government”, in order to try to influence the election result.

Besides news portals, activists such as Vladislav Dajkovic were spreading the disinformation too. On his Facebook profile, he posted that after the opposition’s electoral victory, the DPS would send its groups to burn the flags of Montenegro, NATO, and the EU and cause unrest in order to present that the opposition wants to annul the statehood of Montenegro. His post was republished by numerous news portals: IN4S, Novosti, Srbija danas.

Together with the news on the planned unrest, the news on the intended suspension of voting, because of a great turnout which is not in favor of the ruling party was also launched. Therefore, the IN4S news portal claimed that the suspension of voting would occur on the particular polling stations, under the guise of the alleged breach of the health measures of the NKT, in order to prevent the victory of the opposition.

The news portal Glas Javnosti published that the internet outage in Montenegro was planned for around 6 pm, as well as the takedown of the news portals IN4S and Borba which did not occur in the end.

Fake news were spread on social media too

Sputnjik Srbija (Sputnik Serbia) was also active in the spreading of disinformation. Sputnik published that a captain and a dozen representatives of the Army of Montenegro (who were sent to offer assistance near Rozaje) demonstratively handed over their weapons and went to Niksic to vote. As it was stated in the text, they wanted to vote by letter and asked that one of them be in the commission that was carrying the letters. Since they were not allowed to do so, they decided to go to Niksic and vote on their polling stations. This piece of fake news was soon denied by the Ministry of Defense of Montenegro in a statement reading that the soldiers were allowed to vote in Niksic a day before the elections. The transport to the polling station was organized and afterward, they returned to their workplaces, they stated from the Ministry of Defence.

Disinformation on the news portals CdM and Analitika

On the other hand, the Montenegrin news portals CdM and Portal Analitika published yesterday the news: Reinke: I admire the people who came to Montenegro and risk their health so that they would vote. The text reads that the U.S. Ambassador Judy Rising Reinke talked to the ENEMO observation mission representatives. “I’m amazed at the fact that you were willing to get on a plane at this historical moment and, as a matter of fact, to risk your health to come and witness something you sincerely and deeply believe in. You share my belief in the importance of this mission”, Ms. Reinke told. Therefore, the Ambassador expressed her honest admiration to the mission members who arrived in Montenegro despite the pandemic, and she did not mention the voters from abroad which were insinuated in the headline, even though there is no such construction in the text. After a couple of hours, the CdM corrected the headline by publishing a new one: I admire people who came to Montenegro, risking their health just to come and witness something they sincerely and deeply believe in, while Analitika did not do so.

All of the fake news we register on a daily basis indicate the necessity of the education of citizens and the strengthening of media literacy in all countries of the region.

Fake news is spreading six times faster than true information on social media, which is per se speaking of the difficult fight against this phenomenon. The only possible way is a common collaboration of media, state institutions, and organizations that are fighting fake news.

Since its appearing on the media scene, the Udar news portal has been publishing unverified information, almost always with the reference to the unknown sources, and one month from its first texts, it still does not have an Impressum, even though the Law is obliging it to do so. The Digital Forensic Center analyzed written and video content from the Udar news portal, its influence on social media, and anonymous ownership and editorial structure.

Soon after its registration under the national Internet domain of Montenegro (the domain was registered on July 17), the authors announced the disclosure of well-kept information and secrets.

Our experience has shown us that the media, which has been launched prior to the elections, almost always serves the interests of the specific political option. The same case was with the Sloboda newspaper before the 2018 Presidential Elections, which was openly supporting the opposition. However, what makes Udar stand out and creates difficulties to identify it with a specific political party is targeting of all the actors, without exception.

Even though they announced the disclosure of well-kept information, the Montenegrin public has been provided with the pinpointing and unsubstantiated accusing of politicians, parties, and other individuals from public life, without providing any reference to the author or source of information, but always referring to well-informed and anonymous sources.

Moreover, what made Udar one of the main topics of the electoral campaign are YouTube videos of foreign (Serbian) security services’ co-workers disclosing names of famous persons from Montenegro’s public life. Contrary to its written content, videos published on the Udar news portal targeted only one side. In the six videos posted so far, almost all persons are either supporters of the Serbian Orthodox Church, representatives of the opposition parties, or activists close to them. Apart from the photo with their names and surnames, the news portal provides their code names as well, along with their operation links with the foreign country, without any concrete evidence on their alleged connection to the given structures.

A similar pattern has been used in the texts – a particular politician has been targeted with the reference to the anonymous sources. On July 25, an article: Boskovic has never returned the SPC’s decoration was published by that pattern. The main thesis was that the Minister of Defense has not returned the SPC’s decoration, even though he said otherwise in the Parliament in February this year, claiming that he has a DHL receipt as proof. Referring to anonymous sources from the SPC’s Holy Synod, Udar claims that the Church did not receive the decoration, although it does leave open the possibility that such a thing could have happened. A similar example of contradictory stances was noticed in the articles published on July 23: The DPS’s representative married daughter despite the measures, where they stated that Mayor of Ulcinj Loro Nrekiq breached the preventive measures of the National Coordination Body (NKT). Further in the text, they stated that another source claimed that all measures were met and that the truth was still unknown?! Even with that conclusion and without any concrete evidence, Udar accused Nrekiq, by providing a bombastic headline, of jeopardizing the health of citizens of Ulcinj.

The same day the text on Nrekiq was published, Udar published another article: EXCLUSIVE: Krapovic wants to join the list It’s in Black and White! Again referring to the anonymous sources, the text stated that former Mayor of Budva Dragan Krapovic wanted to transfer from the Democrats to the list It’s in Black and White lead by Dritan Abazovic. As proof of the claim, they published a photo of the two actors from one of the cafés in Budva. Interesting is that the same day the text was published, Krapovic appeared on TV A1, where he represented the Democrats. Even though the second guest was Filip Adzic from the URA (It’s in Black and White), Krapovic not once mentioned leaving his party, and four days later when the DIK (State Election Commission) confirmed the electoral lists, he ended up fourth on the list Peace is our nation.

Besides speculations, incomplete information, and accusations towards public persons without concrete evidence, Udar publishes conspiracy theories too. The text: The DF confirmed suspicions: Mandic is NATO’s player, states that it is a well-kept secret that the American scientists have developed an experimental COVID-19 vaccine, which is currently only available to a limited number of people. They state that on July 11, 25 of such vaccines were imported in Montenegro because of the regime’s fear of someone of the key players being out of the game ahead of the elections, and Mandic was given the vaccine because he is the key regime’s opposition player. At the moment of publishing, this text (July 26) nowhere in the world was available the COVID-19 vaccine. Only on August 15, Russia published that they initiated the vaccine production, even though the World Health Organization data show that not all the phases of the clinical trials of such, as they said, experimental medicine have been completed.

When it comes to social media, the news portal has an active account on both Facebook and Twitter. But despite their frequent advertising, they did not generate a large number of followers on both platforms (Facebook – 870, Twitter – 87).

Data on the Facebook page Crnogorske novosti

During the Facebook analysis, only one person was noticed as an administrator from Montenegro. Besides, the Crnogorske novosti (the Montenegrin news) page is substantially active in sharing of Udar‘s content – out of 80 posts in total, one third (27) constituted posts shared from that news portal. The page was created on October 29, 2019, under the name Crnogorke najljepše djevojke (Montenegrins the most beautiful girls) just to change its name in Crnogorske novosti on July 22, ahead of the beginning of the election campaign. On that occasion, all of the previous content was deleted and then they started to post content aimed at discrediting the Montenegrin opposition.

Anonymous ownership and no impressum

Although they announced that the mission of the Udar news portal was to publish well-kept secrets and truths and that its editorial board is constituted of a team with international expertise in investigative journalism, till this day there is not an Impressum with the names of editor-in-chief and members of the editorial board, which is a legal obligation.

According to the Law on Media, Impressum should be visible, easily recognizable, and always available. Likewise, Impressum consists of the name of the media, e-mail or website address, name of editor-in-chief, name and headquarters/location of the founder, and a TIN of the media founder.

Milorad Vujovic and Srdjan Peric have recently and in the capacity of citizens submitted a request to the Agency for Electronic Media to take necessary actions within their authority and regarding the unregistered electronic media and the content it publishes.

Carefully hidden information on the tenant of the domain

The Udar news portal was created on the Internet by using the tools for anonymous web hostings, such as Njalla, which uses Bitcoin as a type of payment method that cannot be traced, and Cloudflare. These tools are designed to keep the ownership identity by hiding the information on domain or web hosting tenant (WHOIS).

Overview of the news portal’s certificates, WHOIS information, IP address history, hosting server, and the portal’s content did provide us neither with any information nor mistake that would uncover the ownership identity. It is about an organization with technical knowledge, which has carefully created and kept their anonymity.