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.
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.
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.
We grouped the posts in accordance with the key narratives which were being spread:
- Churches in Montenegro belong to and will always belong to the SPC;
- Persecution of Serbs and tyranny over the Serbian people in Montenegro;
- Montenegro is the Serbian Sparta;
- Djukanovic is the main culprit for the deteriorating bilateral relations;
- 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.
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.
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.