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 www.udar.me and the content it publishes.

Carefully hidden information on the tenant of the domain udar.me

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.

During the first 15 days of August, the most read Montenegrin portals (six of them) published 627 articles mentioning the Democratic Party of Socialists (Demokratska partija socijalista). Out of them, 63.4 percent were negative, 19.9 percent were neutral while 16.7 percent were positive. In the same period, 284 articles mentioning the list For the future of Montenegro (Za budućnost Crne Gore) were registered, out of which 47.8 percent were positive, 39.2 were neutral and 13 percent were negative.

The Digital Forensic Center carried out a monitoring of the articles about the electoral lists on the news portals and posts on Facebook in order to determine their presence, key topics in the articles and their social media reach.

From August 1 to 15, we registered the articles mentioning parties and/or their representatives on six most visited Montenegrin news portals in the previous month, according to our data: Vijesti, CDM, In4S, RTCG, Antena M and Borba.

Monitoring demonstrated that the majority of the articles on news portals (627 of them) were about the list Decisively for Montenegro – DPS Milo Djukanovic (Odlučno za Crnu Goru – DPS Milo Đukanović), out of which 398 were negative, 124 were neutral while 105 of them were positive. When it comes to the number of articles on the portals, the majority of those mentioning the DPS and its leaders in any context were registered on the news portals IN4S, Borba and Vijesti. The news portal In4S had 160 articles. Out of them, 153 were negative, six were neutral and only one article was positive. On the news portal Borba, the DPS and its representatives were mentioned in negative context 107 times, 21 articles were neutral while there were no positive articles. On the news portal Vijesti, the DPS had 66 negative, 26 neutral and 15 positive articles.

During the monitoring period, In4S had the highest number of the op-eds on the upcoming elections while the majority of those targeted the government. Out of those articles, the following stand out: The opposition may defeat Milo if united and Montenegrins bit the hand that educated them. In4S and Borba republished the information of the Belgrade-based news portal Glas javnosti (the Voice of the public) that a great electoral fraud is being prepared and that the authorities are bringing the Albanians from Kosovo to vote for the DPS using false identity documents. The negative narratives published on the news portal Vijesti on the DPS and its representatives are usually taken from the press releases of the opposition parties, stating that the ruling party is blackmailing the voters and buying IDs as well as that the DPS has never been more vulnerable and endangered.

The second most mentioned party in the articles and posts is the coalition around the Democratic Front (Za budućnost Crne Gore), with the majority of articles in the positive context – 136, 111 were neutral, and 37 articles about this list and its representatives were negative. The majority of the articles about that electoral list in the monitoring period were on the news portals In4S and Borba. Out of 70 published articles on the news portal In4S, 60 were positive, eight were neutral and two were negative while Borba published 44 positive articles about that list, 22 neutral articles and no negative articles. Out of the positive articles about the great people’s coalition on the portal In4S, the op-eds stand out again. Hence, in the text For the future of Montenegro, the leaders of this coalition are commended since they succeeded to unite and it is also stated that the opposition is close to the electoral victory. The key message of the article is that Montenegro deserves to (re)animate and the precondition for that would be that the people vote for themselves and the future of Montenegro. The news portal Borba mostly reported on the statements and announcements of the chief candidate of the list For the future of Montenegro Zdravko Krivokapic, in which this coalition is presented as a defender of the shrines and the focus is on the abolition Law on Freedom of Religion and Belief after the regime change.

The list „Mir je naša nacija” (“Peace is our nation“) is on the third place for the number of articles (158) while the coalition „Crno na bijelo” (“It’s in black and white“) comes right after it with 154 articles. The list leaded by the Democratic Montenegro had 67 positive and neutral articles respectively while 24 articles were negative. The list „It’s in black and white“ had 79 positive articles, 63 neutral ones and 12 negative on all monitored news portals. Both lists had the most articles on the news portal Vijesti (Peace is our nation – 44, It’s in black and white – 43).

The list SDP – Strong Montenegro had 141 articles out of which 72 were positive, 53 were neutral and 16 were negative while the list SD – Ivan Brajovic – We decide CONSISTENTLY had 111 articles out of which 54 were positive, 30 were neutral and 27 were negative.

It is noticeable that the news portals dedicated much less attention to the national minorities’ parties. Therefore, there were 40 articles about the list of the Bosniak Party (Bošnjačka stranka), while the Croatian Citizens’ Initiative (Hrvatska građanska inicijativa) and the Albanian List – Genci Nimanbegu and Nik Gjeloshaj (Albanska lista – Gneci Nimanbegu i Nik Đeljošaj) had 28 articles respectively, the Croatian Reform Party (Hrvatska reformska stranka) had 27 articles and the least articles, only 19, had the Albanian Coalition – Unanimously (Albanska koalicija – Jednoglasno).

The most present topics in the articles on the news portals were identity issues, the Law on Freedom of Religion and Belief, healthcare and the measures of the National Coordination Body (NKT), crime and corruption, economy, youth and education.

More than 3.6k of the Facebook posts concern the elections

In the monitoring period, we registered more than 3.6k of the posts concerning elections in Facebook groups and pages. The posts had more than 880k of interactions (shares, likes, comments etc.)

Out of the monitored news portals, Borba had the most posts about the elections on its Facebook page – 231, then comes In4S with 184, Antena M with 84 while Vijesti had 76, RTCG had 51 and CdM had 25 posts.

The pages and groups which mostly shared the posts of the news portals on Facebook were: Srpski Herceg Novi, Pleme Vasojevići, Srpsko-rusko bratstvo – duhovno i istorijsko, Ne u NATO, Srpska Crna Gora, Crna Gora – Srpska Sparta, Ludački pokret Ne damo svetinje, Svetosavski pokret Crne Gore, Srbi u Crnoj Gori, Podrška mitoropolitu crnogorsko-primorskom g. Amfilohiju Radoviću, Nikšić ponosni srpski grad and Glas naroda u Republici Srpskoj. These pro-Serbian pages and groups mostly shared the articles from the portals In4S and Borba which demonstrates that they are more active on Facebook in this context than the pro-Montenegrin pages where we have not registered more significant sharing of the content from the monitored news portals.

For a complete presentation of the monitoring, click here.

All around the world, social media have been actively used as the means of influence in the prominent events and political processes. However, Facebook is the most used when it comes to the election campaigns, thanks to its features and tools. It offers a feature to collect numerous data easily, which enables the targeting of the groups on the basis of different criteria (users’ preferences, location etc.) This way, the users susceptible to a particular content are easily identified.

Examples of the political influence on social media are numerous. During 2019, President Donald Trump spent almost 20 million dollars on ads on Facebook. Russian meddling in the USA elections in 2016 is also problematic. On that occasion, Russian hackers allegedly meddled by launching misleading and false Facebook ads, intended for the users in the USA.

Influencers also have an important role in the election campaigns. What is indicative is the fact that not only influencers with many followers are engaged in the propaganda of political parties on social media or inviting people to participate in the elections, but also the so-called micro-influencers with only a couple of thousands of followers.

Where are our political parties on Facebook?

According to the data from 2019, Montenegro has 51 political parties, the most per capita in the region. However, in the race for parliamentary elections scheduled for August 30, 2020, there are about a dozen of them.

Since the coronavirus pandemic made the campaign in real word difficult, some parties decided to use the virtual world (social media) for this purpose. In Montenegro, it is usually Facebook, as the most used social network.

The DFC analyzed eleven Facebook pages of the Montenegrin political parties during the period June – July 2020: Aleksa Bečić – Demokrate – Demokratska Crna Gora, Građanski pokret URA, Demokratska partija socijalista Crne Gore, Ujedinjena Crna Gora – Zvanična stranica, DEMOS – Miodrag Lekić, Socijaldemokrate Crne Gore, Marko Milačić – Prava Crna Gora, Demokratski front, SNP – Socijalistička narodna partija Crne Gore – СНП ЦГ, Socijaldemokratska partija Crne Gore – SDP) and Bošnjačka stranka.

The acquired data indicate which political parties had the most interactions per post (total number of likes, shares, and comments), the most likes on the page as well as whether the interaction has varied as the elections are approaching. It was noticed that particular political parties used the option of sponsoring in order to amplify their reach, which collides with the organic interactions on these pages.

Milacic’s page  – the most interactions and likes

The page of Marko Milacic – Prava Crna Gora had the most interactions per post (4.3k) in June. This page also generates the most likes (70.1k). The next are the pages Demokratski front with 1.5k and Aleksa Bečić – Demokrate – Demokratska Crna Gora with 1.1k of interactions per post. Besides this, both pages obtained many likes; therefore, the page of the DF has 51.3k while the Democrats have 44.4k of likes.

Number of average interactions per post in June on the pages of political parties

Other pages of political parties have less than a thousand interactions per post in June. However, Ujedinjena Crna Gora – Zvanična stranica stands out in this group and despite the lower number of likes (5.8k) generates 717 interactions per post.

In July, Milacic’s page still had the most interactions per post (3.4.k) while this figure is almost halved in the case of Demokratski Front and Demokrate accounting for 757 and 643 interactions per post respectively. The data indicates that not all pages of political parties generate a significant increase in the number of interactions per post, even though the elections are approaching.

Number of average interactions per post in July on the pages of political parties

The pages of other political parties generate a similar trend in July as it was the case with June. Therefore, the number of interactions per post still does not surpass a thousand. However, a significant increase in the number of interactions is noticeable on the page of the Social democrats of Montenegro, which bounced from 70 in June to 369 interactions per post in July.

Overview of the growth in number of likes for June – July

When it comes to page likes, the biggest growth for the period June-July is registered on the Marko Milacic – Prava Crna Gora Facebook page with 6.7k likes, as well as on the Aleksa Becic – Demokrate – Demokratska Crna Gora with 6.1k likes. This is followed by Demokratski front (3.2k), Socijaldemokrate Crne Gore (1.8k), Demokratska partija socijalista Crne Gore (1.5k) and Ujedinjena Crna Gora – Zvanicna stranica (1.4k). Other pages of the political parties generate the growth of a less than a thousand page likes for the two monitored months.

Meme pages joined the political game

Apart from being fun, meme pages popular on Facebook use their rhetoric to influence public opinion. With a characteristic dose of satire, they have frequently been used as a tool of influence, which is most visible at the key political moments – in this case, the election campaign in Montenegro.

Otavio Freire, chief technology officer and president of SafeGuard Cyber, told for The Guardian last year: The visual nature of content makes it easier to stoke discord by speaking to audiences’ beliefs through memes. This content is easy and inexpensive to produce but more difficult to factcheck than articles from dubious sites.

Meme pages achieve the growth in Montenegro

Meme pages, divided between the position and the opposition just like the domestic political scene, find sources of their content in the current political reality, interpreting it in different manners. It is presumed that some of them have been created by political parties themselves, while others are obviously supporting specific political parties and even the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral in the context of the elections.

That way, the politics have been transferred to the virtual world, and in that sense, several opposition-oriented meme pages come to the fore: МИМистарство оностраних послова, Nemojmo politizovati proteste, It was very unpleasant/Psalam 118 (which call themselves meme serdars), Dnevna doza crnogorskih dubioza, including two position-close meme pages – Crna Gora Transparentno and Politika Crna Gora.

Figures and statistics

In the context of the upcoming elections, it was noticed that the opposition-oriented meme pages have had a larger number of posts on a daily basis. Just meme page It was very unpleasant/Psalam 118 had 28 posts per day on average for the period June-July.  Also, by random sharing, they amplify the content from other meme pages with similar views. On the other hand, pages close to the government account for a smaller number of posts – several posts on a weekly or monthly basis, but some of their posts have more than a thousand likes.

Growth in number of likes on the meme pages for June – July

The analyzed data clearly shows us that depending on the political option they are more inclined to, some meme pages criticize the opposition and their leaders. Others, on the other hand, call for opposition unity, insist on voting instead of election boycott, and criticize the ruling party – the DPS, and the President of Montenegro. The SPC and the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral is also a frequent topic of the meme pages; some of them express their support to Metropolitan Amfilohije. Sometimes, admins of such pages see themselves as persons whose strategies should be followed by the church to overthrow the government.

Average number of interaction per post on the meme pages for June – July

When it comes to the statistics for June-July 2020, despite its small number of posts (18) for the past two months, meme page Crna Gora Transparentno has the largest number of average interactions per post (914), at the same time being the most liked meme page (18.9k). This is followed by meme pages It was very unpleasant/Psalam 118 with 447, Politika Crna Gora with 390, and Dnevna doza crnogorskih dubioza with 357 interactions per post. For the same period, meme pages МИМистарство оностраних послова and Nemojmo politizovati proteste have 287 and 260 interaction per post respectively. It is important to mention that meme page It was very unpleasant/Psalam 118 has achieved the highest growth in the number of likes (5.4k) for the period June-July.

In the context of the current events in Montenegro, the emergence of numerous organizations advocating for the Serbian interests and rights in Serbia and over the world is noticeable

The Serbian- American Leadership Conference (SALC) was particularly noticeable due to its activities and rhetoric on social media (Facebook and Twitter),  offering selective facts and thus representing Montenegro in a negative light to the American public.

The mission of this non-profit organization, as it is emphasized on the website, is the advancement of the professional, educational, cultural, and civic interests of the Serbian-American community as well as the preserving of Christian faith. The SALC is accordingly commenting on the situation in Montenegro through the lenses of the events around the Law on Freedom of Religion, offering its support to the clergymen, believers, and local activists.

Three levers for supporting the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro

A discourse analysis is showing that the SALC is using three different levers to fight the authorities in Montenegro online. Rhetoric and content of the arguments are adjusted to the American citizens and the current situation in the USA.

First, the SALC aims to portray Montenegro as a country that prevents people from practicing their religion and alerts that it endangers religious freedom. This is an argument that resonates in the minds of American policymakers and the public. Several hashtags are promoted to illustrate these allegations: such as #ReligiousFreedom or #NeDamoSvetinje.

Hashtags promoted by the SALC

Second, as mentioned above, the SALC used the current wave of protests in the US in the context of the message Black Lives Matter to draw a comparison with the current alleged oppression against Serbian orthodox people in Montenegro.  The comparative picture presenting the apprehension by the police in Budva and the USA is used to illustrate this alleged similar situation.

The collage comparing the situation in MNE and the USA

The third way is lobbying of the SALC in the Congress and their post on a day when the illegally built monastery residence in Ulcinj was demolished on June 10. The President of this organization, Aleksandar Djuricic invited all the interested persons to inform their representatives in the Congress about this undemocratic and unconstitutional law passed by the Montenegrin Government and the dangerous actions it is conducting, with the necessary instructions.

SALC Information on Montenegro: How to Call Your Member of Congress

SALC Information on Montenegro: How to Call Your Member of CongressSALC’s Call to Action on Montenegro! Inform your Senators and House Representative about the dire situation in Montenegro! This morning, June 10, 2020, the Montenegrin government began its implementation of its so-called “Law on Freedom of Religion” by forcibly taking control of several church properties, including the demolition of the building where the monks and nuns live at the Monastery of St. Basil of Ostrog in Ulcinj, Montenegro. We also have information that the Montenegrin Government is preparing to demolish the chapel where baptisms are conducted in Tivat, Montenegro. Please call your representatives to inform them about this undemocratic and unconstitutional law passed by the Montenegrin Government and the dangerous actions conducted today that will only enflame tensions.Steps to call your member of Congress:1. Go to www.govtrack.us2. Click on “Legislators”3. Click on “Members of Congress”4. Either enter your address, or click “I’m at Home” if you are currently at home. The safest option is to enter your address. 5. Call your Senators and House representative either with your own commentary or the template provided below.6. Remain calm and cordial.Hello, my name is [NAME] and I’m a constituent from [CITY, STATE].I’m calling to inform [NAME OF SENATOR OR CONGRESSPERSON] about the situation in Montenegro and to voice my concern about the recent actions taken by the Montenegrin Government against the Orthodox Christian community living there. In December, the Montenegrin Government passed a law that violates the rights to freedom of religion and property of both the religious communities and individuals in Montenegro. The Montenegrin Government began to implement this controversial law today by forcibly taking control of church properties and demolishing the monastic residence at the Monastery of St. Basil of Ostrog in Ulcinj, Montenegro. As a member of NATO that receives American taxpayer funds, Montenegro should be asked to cease and desist until the constitutionality of this law is ruled upon by the courts.I ask [NAME OF SENATOR OR CONGRESSPERSON] to visit serbianleaders.com to view a legal analysis of this law.Thank you for your time and attention.(If there is no answer, leave your name with spelling, full home address, and phone number on the voicemail.)

Posted by Serbian American Leadership Conference – SALC on Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Ties of the SALC in Montenegro

In order to better understand the scope of influence of this organization and detect additional persons coming from its network, the Twitter network of the SALC was analyzed.

The analysis discovered the accounts with which the SALC Twitter account has the strongest connections. Those are the accounts Neno Djordjevic and Vasilije Vranic.

Neno Djordjevic is a member of the Serbian American Leadership Conference board and is related to a Serbian political party named Narodna Stranka. This Twitter account reveals that Djordjevic is fully in line with the SALC activity around the current political situation in Montenegro. Djordjevic is a major individual spreading words in English about the developments in Montenegro.

Vasilije Vranic is a Priest of the Serbian Orthodox Church, living in Washington DC. An analysis of his account led to assess that he is a strong opponent of Montenegro’s government and supports the Serbian Christians of Montenegro. Since the creation of his account one month ago, he tweets several times a day, promoting numerous hashtags related to religious freedom in Montenegro.

In March 2020, Vranic attended the meeting between the Patriarch Irinej and Sam Brownback, United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. On that occasion, they discussed the issues including the Serbian people and the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Vranic is equally active on Facebook where he frequently shares the posts of the SALC. The photo which confirms that Vranic met with the President of the SALC in White House was detected right on that social media.

Serbian American Leadership Conference#serbian #salc #srbiuamerici🇷🇸 @ United States Capitol

Posted by Vasilije Vranic on Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Online briefing with the opposition activists

Analysis of the Facebook page of the SALC led to the post concerning a special online briefing on the situation in Montenegro, held on May 16 in the organization of the SALC.

SALC Special Briefing on the Recent Situation in Montenegro

SALC Special Briefing on the Recent Situation in MontenegroSALC hosts a special briefing on the recent events in Montenegro after Bishop Joanikije and other clergy of the Metropolitanate of Montenegro & the Littoral of the Serbian Orthodox Church were arrested and detained, and dozens of peaceful marchers in the procession of St. Basil were beaten. Joining SALC to discuss the events on the ground in Montenegro are Nebojša Medojević, Vladimir Božović, Vladislav Dajković, and Milojko Spajić.

Posted by Serbian American Leadership Conference – SALC on Saturday, May 16, 2020

The first speaker on the briefing was Nebojsa Medojevic, one of the Democratic Front leaders. Besides him, the opposition activist Vladislav Dajkovic received the invitation for briefing. However, he could not join the video call since, as he explained, he was on the way to a hospital due to the injuries that he received from the police during the protests in Niksic.

The Ambassador of Serbia to Montenegro, Vladimir Bozovic, and Milojko Spajic, from the group Montenegrins for Religious Freedom, also took part in the briefing. After the briefing, the SALC thanked everyone for tuning in for the special briefing and posted the press release from the Democratic Front on the police brutality against the opposition activists in Montenegro.

The SALC does not hesitate to comment on the ruling party in Montenegro through its Twitter account, comparing it with the Communist Party in China. It is important to emphasize that this Tweet, posted on June 19, is the only post mentioning the political parties in Montenegro since the account has been created. This may be indicative in the context of the upcoming elections in Montenegro.

Attorney Ilijana Todorovic

At the beginning of June, the news portal IN4S published an article on Ilijana Todorovic, attorney from the USA, who destroyed the Law on Freedom of Religion in her video analysis. In a video which was posted on YouTube on May 30, Todorovic is interpreting the articles of the Law and pointing out to its inconsistencies commenting that almost each article of the Law contains some mistakes. It is important to emphasize that this video was pinned on the Facebook page of the SALC, i.e., this is the first post on their feed.

Further analysis showed that lawyer Todorovic is a SALC VP of Legislative Affairs.

The Digital Forensic Center did a detailed analysis of the pieces of research of the International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan studies (IFIMES), due to discovered inconsistencies in claims, biased coverage of specific topics and changing attitude towards the events and players in a short period.

In their last research 2020 Bosnia and Herzegovina-Montenegro: Dodik and Đukanović are destabilizing factors in Balkans and Europe?, IFIMES states that the declaring Montenegro a corona-free country was met with ridicule in Western diplomatic circles. Recently, Montenegro’s President Milo Đukanović (DPS) lightly declared Montenegro’s “victory over the Corona virus”, which was met with indignation, disbelief and ridicule in Western diplomatic circles. What the US President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and other world leaders have not managed to do, Đukanović managed to do through a Twitter post, by which he deceived once again the Montenegrin and international public.

Without any intention of commenting on or disproving the author’s personal opinion, we cannot ignore the fact that the vocabulary used is neither appropriate nor characteristic of academic pieces of research of the Institute, whose name suggests influence, along with expertise and professionalism.

Shift in writing about Montenegro and Serbia

The research Security-intelligence activities at the time of Covid-19 pandemic, published on March 29 of this year, suggests that Montenegro is hiding results in the fight against coronavirus and withholding the data on the infected, presented itself as one of the few countries with no Covid-19 cases, which did not actually reflect the real situation in the country.

Besides negative narrative about Montenegro and its President, favoring the Serbian President and Serbia is evident, and they have been portrayed as victims of the intelligence services’ activities in the region. The research Serbia 2020: Serbia – scene of confrontation of intelligence services? (published on May 15) suggests that cooperation Podgorica-Zagreb-Pristina is directed against Aleksandar Vucic, without providing any proofs for the claim.

Vucic and Becirovic at the meeting in Belgrade

Analyzing IFIMES’ pieces of research, published from 2016 until 2020, a set of inconsistencies has been seen. The differences are visible in the tone and shift in writing about specific countries and actors. The changes happened after the meeting between President Aleksandar Vucic and IFIMES’ director Zijad Becirovic (on February 12, 2020), even though there was no significant political or social events in the preceding year that would support such a shift.

Vucic – a factor of instability, Djukanovic – a leader

Before the meeting in question, pieces of research had mostly been criticizing the politics of Aleksandar Vucic, calling it a successor of Milosevic and Seselj, and his party right-wing, conservative, and in many aspects nationalistic. Vucic was portrayed as a factor of instability in the region, whose destructive politics is based on media control, creating of crisis in the regional countries, schizophrenic foreign policy and inability to face the past. Both Vucic and Dacic have been constantly creating problems and crisis to appear as problem-solvers and solution-makers, thus ensuring themselves a status of regional leaders.

On the other hand, President of Montenegro Milo Djukanovic is presented as a leader who is establishing harmonic relations with all ethnic communities and whose country became a prominent factor of stability in the region, with one of the best macroeconomic indicators in the region.

Change of tone – roles reversed

In the research Current events in the region 2019: Who wants to destabilize Serbia? published on June 18, 2019, after the meeting of Vucic and Becirovic, the tone of writing is changed and the narratives opposite to the previous analyses of IFIMES are increasingly noticeable. Vucic is presented as a factor of peace and stability in the Balkans and his current position is the most difficult. Even though he has been criticized for media control, now he is the target of the financed media network. The Serbian opposition is also threatening to the integrity of the President of Serbia by misusing the civilian protests and meetings with Kosovo-Albania politicians.

Montenegro, previously presented in the pieces of research of IFIMES as a factor of peace and stability is now presented as a country in which the virus of corruption and criminal is widely present through the DPS and Djukanovic, whose intelligence services are protecting the regime. President Djukanovic, who used to be portrayed as a factor of peace with all ethnic communities, is now playing the card of manipulation, nationalism, and religion in the analyses of IFIMES, and as a former participant in war crimes threatens to the image of NATO.

Besides the change of attitudes of IFIMES towards Montenegro and Serbia, during the observation period, the constant of a positive rating of Zoran Zaev, leader of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) and former Prime Minister of North Macedonia is noticeable. When Zaev came to power, this country became a bright spot in the region, was stated in many pieces of research. Affirming the politics of Zaev continued in the period from July 2017 to July 2019 when Becirovic, together with the other director of IFIMES, Aljaf Bakhtyar became an advisor in the Government of Zoran Zaev.

The credibility of the IFIMES under the microscope

Stjepan Mesic, former President of the Republic of Croatia and Honorable President of IFIMES and Budimir Loncar, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and President of IFIMES Advisory Board distanced themselves from the recently published pieces of research of that Institute, by the mutual press release. The Slovenian media wrote many times on the affairs in relation to the financing of the Institute and its work. The case of Kopar municipality and six ordered pieces of research stands out.

Between 2011 and 2016, the municipality of Kopar bought six pieces of research from IFIMES for EUR 69,132 on the possibility of economic cooperation with the Balkan and Middle East countries, migrants, and Albanian families in that municipality. Instead of detailed analysis, the research provided general information on the wanted topics. A detailed analysis of the Slovenian portal Pod Črto demonstrated that two out of six pieces of research were completely plagiarized, while the two of them contain the parts taken from other sources.

A piece of research from 2016 conducted by the Radio-Television of Slovenia RTVSLO points out to another paid research where the municipality of Kopar sought the analysis on the funeral customs of Muslims, Jews, and Orthodox people for which they paid EUR 11, 000. It is stated that the research is bizarre and does not make any sense since only five Muslims are buried in the municipality of Kopar each year. Therefore, the President of the Islamic Association himself was surprised by the research. The opposition of Kopar stated that a mayor Boris Popovič and director of the Utility Company of Kopar, Gaspar Misic ordered this unnecessary study in order to finance Zijad Becirovic, their acquaintance and Director of IFIMES.


After a recent debunking of the bot network connected with the ruling party in Serbia which was promoting the Chinese aid in that country during coronavirus pandemic, the Digital Forensic Center discovered a new network of accounts from Serbia whose main target is Montenegro.

Through Twitter monitoring, we have noticed numerous posts containing the keyword Montenegro and username of the Serbian President @avucic

Through analysis we found 2, 025 of these posts from the period May 14-20 coming from 637 bot accounts which are connected with the Serbian Progressive Party and President Aleksandar Vucic. The posts were launched in a coordinated manner and were intensified on May 14 after the protests in Montenegro. The majority of the content on these accounts is not original but posted in the form of retweets.

The analysis of the content demonstrates that the primary task of the wide network of accounts is to create the image that the Montenegrin authorities allegedly strive to seize the churches and monasteries from the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC), that the Serbs in Montenegro are being persecuted and that Serbia will do everything to protect them.

Network of the bot accounts

While some accounts were created in 2009, the analyzed network started growing in 2018, continued to grow in 2019, and had a real expansion in the beginning of 2020 when as many as 491 bot account was created.

Number of accounts created per each year

Out of 2,025 posts from the bot accounts, 1,620 (or 80%) were retweets which is another key characteristic of these accounts and networks. This demonstrates that the goal is to increase the reach of the existing content, not to create new and original content.

The visual link analysis of all the accounts in the network indicates that, besides the common topics of the accounts, this network is directly connected with the profile of the Serbian Progressive Party on Twitter.

Serbian Progressive Party in the middle of the bot network

For a better insight into the accounts that mostly wrote on this subject, we filtered a graph in order to display only the accounts with the strongest connection, or, the highest number on posts on this subject. These are: @VladeMladjen22 with 70, @Nsegedinski with 62, @JelenaMilinko13 with 57, MilosSimic89 with 55 and @De_Vla95 with 54. All five profiles were created in 2020.

Bot accounts with the majority of posts on this subject

Narratives

We grouped the posts in accordance with the key narratives which were being spread:

  1. Churches in Montenegro belong to and will always belong to the SPC;
  2. Persecution of Serbs and tyranny over the Serbian people in Montenegro;
  3. Montenegro is the Serbian Sparta;
  4. Djukanovic is the main culprit for the deteriorating bilateral relations;
  5. Serbia will do anything to protect the Serbs and its national interests in Montenegro;

During the last seven days, the accounts were continuously promoting the attitudes and narratives of the highest Serbian officials but also the tabloids from Serbia.

The churches in Montenegro were presented as Serbian and every attempt of their alienation is clashing with the principles of humanity and sanity. Therefore, as it is stated in the posts, no one is entitled to seize the churches from the SPC.

The posts claim that the change in relations between two countries started when Montenegro adopted the Law which stipulates the seizing of the SPC property but also the implementation of the anti-Serbian campaign by the Montenegrin government, which is reflected in the harassment of the priests and the Serbian people itself.

The accounts were writing that Serbia is obliged to protect the Serbian people in Montenegro but without directly meddling in the internal affairs of the other country. However, they assess that the Serbian President will find a way to help in a democratic way and that he will not let the Serbian people in Montenegro be in need of anything.

They are adding that the position of Serbs in Montenegro is getting more difficult every day since their identity is being in danger as well as all the rights that they are entitled to. Also, all the current circumstances in Montenegro are leading to the disappearance of the Serbian people in the following ten years.

Another narrative was that the Montenegrins are running from their lineage and past, that Montenegro is the Serbian Sparta, and that it is striving to rewrite its history.

Some of the posts from bot accounts

Almost all the content from the network of bot accounts corresponds to the attitudes of the Serbian President towards the situation in Montenegro, which he has been expressing last days. Therefore, during the online meeting with the representatives of Serbs in Montenegro on May 16, Vucic said that Serbia will support its people while on May 20 he stated that someone in Montenegro is trying to create the new church so that the Serbian people would disappear.

Social influence

The analysis of the number of followers was also made in order to determine whether this bot network contains the influential figures.

The account @simeontrkuljic which was created in October 2018 has the biggest number of followers (1037) while all the other accounts have less than a thousand followers.

When it comes to the Twitter reactions (sum of likes and retweets), the posts did not gain many of them. Out of 2,025 posts, two are standing out: the first one from the profile @Milica_1990 with 47 reactions and another one with 45 reactions from the profile @Fred_Kremenko

We are reminding that Twitter recently removed more than 8,500 accounts in Serbia whose only purpose was to promote Vucic and the ruling party in Serbia. Bot accounts are usually formed during the important events in a country, with the main goal to redirect the public opinion to the desired direction.

The project Russia’s Footprint in the Western Balkan Information Environment, published by NATO Stratcom Centre of Excellence, investigates Russia’s tools of influence in the Western Balkans (WB), with a focus on the media landscape. The scope of analysis is Russia’s activities in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. The project analyses Russia’s interests and influence toolbox, as well as identifies the vulnerabilities that make the Western Balkan countries susceptible to hostile influence.

It also identifies the Kremlin’s narratives in the WB as well as looks at the role of local WB media in spreading those narratives. The project consists of 4 reports, and one of them – Russia’s Narratives toward the Western Balkans, Analysis of Sputnik Serbia, was done by the Digital Forensic Center.

Russian narratives in the Western Balkans

This report provides a comprehensive analysis of the content of the Kremlin-sponsored Sputnik online news website in Serbian (Sputnik Srbija). It is aimed at understanding the narratives Russia is promoting about six Western Balkan countries, the EU, and NATO.

Sputnik has been recognized as one of the main channels of Russian influence in the Western Balkan media space. It has the potential to reach audiences that speak BCMS (Bosnian-Croatian-Montenegrin-Serbian) languages in several countries in the region and its content is republished by local media.

The report is based on analysis of a year-long monitoring process that lasted from January 1 to December 31, 2018. The authors analysed 7,193 articles about Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, as well as the EU and NATO.

The report identifies several narratives promoted by Sputnik Srbija:

  • The WB region is a playground for a clash of interests between East and West
  • The WB region is unstable and there is a high potential for conflict
  • The EU is hegemonic
  • WB countries are weak, incapable, and corrupt
  • Human rights are endangered
  • The EU and NATO are weak and not united
  • NATO is aggressive and provocative
  • Montenegro is seeking to rewrite history
  • NATO is not beneficial

The analysis demonstrates that Sputnik tries to emphasize that the region is divided into pro-Western and pro-Eastern sides. The narratives encourage feelings of unease, insecurity, and worry in the region. The Western Balkans are presented as the next place of confrontation between NATO and Russia, with the six countries seen as having to pick sides sometime in future.

The countries that are close to the West, such as Montenegro, Albania, and North Macedonia, are described as losing their sovereignty to Western influence. They are portrayed as corrupt, crime-ridden and disrespectful of minority rights. Meanwhile, Serbia is continually presented as an economic success story in the region.

While the EU is portrayed as hegemonic and meddling in regional dialogues, NATO is depicted as aggressive and provocative toward Serbia and Russia.

Russia is presented as the protector of Kosovo Serbs, while the West is described as supporting Kosovo Albanians. Russia is also described as a military power that scares NATO, and at the same time victim of NATO’s aggression.

About the research

In order to estimate the attitudes and opinions of the citizens of Montenegro when it comes to their critical view on media content available on a daily basis, the Digital Forensic Center conducted quantitative field research of the public opinion.

The research was conducted on a representative sample of 1,054 adult citizens. The representative sample is defined as a random three-stage stratified sampling. The sampling evaluation is based on the available data from the 2011 census and evaluations on the population demographic characteristics from 2019. The sample is representative according to socio-demographic criteria – region, settlement type, sex, and age.

The research was conducted in the period between February 19 and March 20, 2020. “Face-to-face” survey lasted 15 minutes on average. For the purpose of this research, the questionnaire was made and it encompasses 4 units: media usage; trust in media and information quality; fake news and disinformation; responsibility, and information control.

The margin of error for the cases with incidence 50% equals +/- 3.0%

After the field research, a descriptive online indicative research was done, in order to estimate the media usage and the extent to which the citizens are informed on the COVID-19 epidemic.

Media usage

According to the results of the field research, televisions represent the media mostly used by the respondents. The majority of respondents (76.6%) state that they are watching television every day.

Among the younger respondents up to 24 years, only 50 percent claims that they are watching TV several times a week or on a daily basis while among the respondents older than 64 years old, 93% claim the same.

On the total sample, social media represent the second most present media which more than half of the respondents (64.7%) use on a daily basis or several times a week. Almost all respondents up to 24 years (92.8%) claim that they use social media on a daily basis or several times a week.

Older respondents and particularly those in the north of Montenegro usually state that they do not have access to online media such as news portals and social media.

The least used media according to the respondents’ opinion is the daily press. Just under half of the respondents (43.8%) state that they read daily press on a daily basis or several times a week while almost half of the young respondents up to 24 years never read the daily press.

Trust in media

Average trust rate in the Montenegrin media on a scale from 1 to 5 equals 3 approximately, therefore, there is no noticeable difference in the expressed level of trust in different media. In comparison with the other media, the respondents express the highest level of trust in television (32%). When it comes to other media, 28.2% trust radio, 28% trust YouTube, 24.4% daily press, 15.4% social media, and 14, 8% news portals.

Based on a total sample, only 28.1 percent of respondents estimate that the Montenegrin media report objectively and professionally, following the code of ethics.

Just over a third of respondents (36.9%) estimates that the media reporting influences the change of course of events. More than half of respondents (56.9%) states that the media does not influence their views on current affairs.

Half of the respondents estimate that the media frequently or almost always reports differently on the same event (50.6%) and that they frequently or almost always ignore or omit vital elements from news or important events (48.2%).

Fake news

Most of the respondents (85.3%) state that they are familiar with the notion of „Fake news“. As many as 79.2% of respondents estimate that they have noticed fake news in the Montenegrin media at least once.

If they notice „fake news“ on social media, a third of the respondents estimate that they would probably do nothing about it and ignore such a piece of information.

As few as 27.8% of respondents estimates that it is difficult to assess whether the information found in the media is true or false. One-third of respondents (34.4%) estimates that it is partially difficult to assess the truthfulness of the information. And 27.4% of respondents estimate that such a task is easy.

Almost 67.4 percent of respondents estimate that the state should monitor and control the media content on the internet in order to stop the spread of disinformation and fake news.

COVID-19 and the overall trust in the Montenegrin media

After the field research, a descriptive online indicative research was done, in order to estimate the media usage and the extent to which the citizens are informed on the COVID-19 epidemic.

As many as 80.5 percent of respondents follow the news on coronavirus in Montenegro almost every day, while 11.1 percent of them do it sometimes, and 7.6 percent do it rarely or almost never.

A total of 55.6 percent of respondents have trust mostly or totally in the Montenegrin media, whereas 21.7 percent trust them partially and 22.7 percent do not have trust at all or only partially.

The citizens mostly get informed about the pandemic via the internet portals or TV, while they do it most rarely via daily press and radio.

When it comes to trust in TVs, citizens almost equally and the most trust TV Vijesti (45.5%) and TVCG (42.2%), then Nova M and TV Prva.

The Vijesti news portal has the biggest trust of the citizens when it comes to getting informed about the coronavirus via news portals. Then follows RTCG, CDM, Antena M, Analitika, Pobjeda, FOS, and Dan.

Almost 78 percent of respondents have come across fake news and disinformation on coronavirus, and such news is mainly found on social media and news portals.