Resonant Voices Radar examines the disinformation, propaganda, hate speech and other dangerous online messages that polarize communities in Western Europe and the Balkans.
These are the major polarizing messages from February 2020.
Hungarian and Serbian Media Push Migration Conspiracies
News outlets based in Serbia and Hungary, including Dnevna gazeta, Voice of Europe, Republika, Hír TV and Kurir spread conspiracies claiming that the recent influx of migrants in the Balkans was organized by foreign actors. The stories falsely claim that both George Soros and the government of Austria are helping direct asylum seekers and migrants to Serbia.
These conspiracies were then shared by prominent Twitter accounts, including Serbia’s Dveri political party, and were reflected in comments on the Austria-based outlet Kurier and Serbia-based outlet Subotica.
This demonstrates how misinformation can take hold among readers to manipulate their views. In effect, the inaccurate information can entrench hardline opinions and motivate irrational behavior.
Hanau Attack Sparks Online Discussion on Far-Right Across Europe
The February attack in Hanau spurred a wave of extreme reactions on social media and news outlets in Germany and the Western Balkans. On Twitter, some users reffered to the term, “German far-right terrorists,” as offensive, while others attempted to justify the massacre as an inevitable result of migration.
Similarly, in her article on Junge Freiheit, the party leader of the AfD, Alice Weidel, claimed the political reaction was part of a “hysterical and infamous” campaign to distort facts. She went on to reject that the attack was motivated by racism and right-wing extremism. The party later stated that party members would seek to pay more attention to how they articulated themselves.
While most of the Western Balkans diaspora in Germany appeared to condemn the attack, commenters on the Bosnia-based web portal Klix in particularmade statements sympathetic to the far-right.
Overall, the devastating attack is evidence of how online echo-chambers can lead to violence offline. Even as the massacre led to an immediate wave of polarizing posts, most online content acknowledged that the attack was a product of online radicalization.
Inauthentic Twitter Account Starts False Story of Commander’s Death
A hoax Twitter account pretending to belong to the Foreign Minister of Bosnia Bisera Turkovic incorrectly stated that Commander Bosnian Serb Army Ratko Mladic, who was convicted of war crimes at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), had died in a prison cell.
The communications team at the ICTY quickly corrected the false statement. However, hundreds of news outlets in the Balkans had already publish the story. As a result, poor journalistic standards helped misinformation spread like wildfire.
False information evidently has the ability to reopen old wounds and trigger extreme reactions around the world. To prevent this, we can verify information with trusted sources on an individual level.
Media Highlights Acts of Hate at Carnivals Across Europe
At carnivals in Croatia, Germany, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, acts of hate, including the burning of effigies, anti-Semitic references, and the use of Nazi symbols, attracted considerable attention from online media. News outlets, such as Narod and Braniteljski portal, attempted to justify the acts, promoting extreme narratives of hatred toward different communities. Most commenters praised the acts, as Facebook pages for the Balkan diaspora shared coverage of the carnivals.
These overtly hateful acts effectively served as a force-multiplier for extreme content online. As different platforms seek to promote hardline positions, they undermine diversity and security across Europe.
Germany’s Far-Right Spreads Stereotypes About Migrants
A racist coloring book for children was distributed at an event hosted by the German far-right AfD party in North Rhine-Westphalia. The book contained demeaning depictions of migrants that reinforced stereotypes about migrants, including barbaric and violent behavior. The AfD defended the book on their website, calling it an “art book with satirical sketches on the state of the country.”
Readers of an article from the right-wing newspaper Junge Freiheit about Bavarian police intercultural training responded in a similar manner with spiteful, racist and anti-immigrant comments.
To be clear, these harmful stereotypes are based on false reasoning and counterproductive to creating safer communities. The blanket labeling of migrants as security threats only sparks an irrational fear and anger among the population.
Comments on Austrian News Portal Reveal Racist Double Standards on Migration
In February, the Austrian news portal, Kurier, published two articles about Croatian migrants, which attracted comments with racist double standards. Most commenters welcomed “this kind” of migrant to Austria, while referring to migrants of other backgrounds, especially Muslim migrants from African countries, as “uneducated” and “unwilling” to integrate into society.
While the articles alone do not present racist content, the commenters’ statements are inherently prejudice against entire groups of people. This offensive rhetoric has the power to fuel hateful narratives that raise tensions throughout Europe.
Protest Against Montenegro’s Law on Region Takes Vienna
The Facebook account of the Austrian branch of the Serbian Educational and Cultural Association (SPKD Prosvjeta) called for protests against Montenegro’s law on religion. The post announced a “great procession” against the “injustice” in Montenegro. In subsequent comments, the page framed the protest as a “fight for equal rights” that “knows no boundaries” and generated responses that were hostile toward Montenegro.
It demonstrates how movements in the Western Balkans can transcend borders, especially as the Balkan diaspora shares content to an international audience. While the internet can help users voice their opinions publicly, it can also project harmful narratives that heighten tensions among different Balkan nationalities.
Election Bids in Serbia Followed by Extreme Posts
After far-right activists Goran Davidovic and Pavle Bihali announced bids for Serbia’s general election, they made extreme posts on Twitter. Bihali made aggressive comments toward migrants, and Davidovic threatened N1 TV in response to coverage of his candidacy.
The two candidacies underscore an increased tolerance for extreme rhetoric in mainstream politics. Their messages match a pattern of harmful narratives around the globe that attack minorities and media freedom for political purposes. As a consequence, they risk normalizing hate speech among the general population.