Fake news and the elections: From unrest on the streets to Internet outage

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 an 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 the 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 special metal constructions on the front of the vehicle which would enable the vehicles to run into the masses efficiently.

After that, they claimed that the authorities were 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 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 in 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 at 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.