Resonant Voices Radar exposes false, biased or manipulated online content that feeds division and mobilizes support for groups and causes that threaten public safety, human rights, and democracy.
The Resonant Voices Radar’s team monitors the digital ecosystem of open online channels that produce and disseminate misinformation, partisan and extremist propaganda, hate speech, unsubstantiated claims, and other dangerous online messages that spread across borders, languages, and platforms, affecting transnational diaspora communities.
In July 2020, the Resonant Voices Radar analysed the resonance and reach of the following stories:
Srebrenica commemorated, Srebrenica weaponised.
Photo: Twitter Screenshot
The post-Yugoslav online space in July was dominated by the Srebrenica commemoration, marking the 25th anniversary of the genocide. A quarter of a century later, the Srebrenica genocide is still fiercely contested online, rife with biased interpretation of events and inflammatory statements among social media users in the Balkans and the Balkan diaspora communities.
A hashtag #Srebrenica25 dominated social media but there were an enormous difference in content of Twitter posts written in English and those ones written in Serbian, shows RVR analysis using SocioViz application.
An analysis of English-language Twitter posts associated with the term Srebrenica indicates that the 25th anniversary inspired a truly global discussion, highlighting the victim stories of Srebrenica genocide, but also pointing to dangers of Islamophobia and the emergence of genocide denial. In English-language posts, the keywords associated with this respectful, mournful commemoration narrative (the blue network) are significantly more dominant than those associated with the narrative that promotes an “alternative” interpretation, denying the Srebrenica genocide and questioning the involvement of Ratko Mladić and Serbia (the yellow network).
The blue network was dominated by words that highlighted Muslims as victims, the Srebrenica genocide as the first genocide in Europe after Holocaust, while Serbs in Bosnia are associated with the genocide denial.
However, when analysing Twitter posts exclusively in Serbian, the revisionist narrative on the topic of Srebrenica, made up of expression “Muslim terrorists”, “destroying what is Serbian”, “analyses that have revealed falsifications,” or “attempts to abuse history” becomes much more dominant. The main source of this toxic narrative were Facebook and Twitter accounts of the website Crvene beretke (Red Berets) that promotes remembrance and ideology of dissolved Unit for Special Operations, former elite special police unit of Serbia’s State Security Service whose members were involved in Balkan war crimes as well as in assassination of Serbia’s Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić.
The last five years consecutively, this website was sharing to its more around 105,000 Facebook followers and up to 4,000 Twitter followers the same secretly recorded video allegedly showing Srebrenica-based members of Bosniak troops talking about killing Serbs in 1994, a year before Srebrenica genocide. The video is used as justification for killing Bosniaks in Srebrenica in 1995, spreading Islamophobia and hate speech.
Photo: Facebook Screenshot
Srebrenica genocide denialist ride on coattail of the 25th anniversary commemoration
The global attention in July was amply utilised by those seeking to promote the Srebrenica genocide denial as part of their political agenda.
In their “alternative” interpretation of what happened, the 11 July is considered “the day of the liberation of Srebrenica” and the military commander General Ratko Mladić responsible for the killings hailed as a hero. Often, to lend the air of credibility and objectivity to these outrageous statements, experts from outside the Balkans who outright reject or question Mladić’s responsibility for the Srebrenica genocide are quoted.
For example, In July, the tabloid Informer published an article titled “The Mladić Case! A scapegoat for NATO war crimes in Yugoslavia! A well-known Canadian lawyer busted the lies of the Hague Tribunal!” But the article from an obscure blog called Zanimljiveinteresantne, garnered much attention in the online environment. Titled “Finnish historian shocked the world: Mladić is a hero! He defended Europe from Islamists!,” the text conveyed the claims of a Finnish child psychiatrist and former parliamentarian of the Finnish far-left party.
This content was primarily shared among Facebook groups which bring together Serb nationalists, members of the far-right, pro-Russian activists and sympathizers, achieving a reach of more than 450,000 Facebook users, and prompting more than 43,000 interactions.
As a way of obscuring the truth about what really happened in July 1995, newspaper articles circulating online also stated there were no Serbs living in Srebrenica on 12 July 1995, supported by the claim of historian Milivoje Ivanišević that “it was a great omission and irreparable mistake of Serbian statesmen and politicians not having, then or later, informed the public that in Srebrenica the Muslims have killed all the Serbs during their rule”.
Additionally, alternative Serbian media also pushed a statement by one of the members of the Bosniak community in Srebrenica, Ibran Mustafić, that at least between 500 and 1,000 Bosniaks from Srebrenica were killed by their compatriots during the breakthrough towards Tuzla in July 1995. He claimed that Bosniak army had lists of politically “unsuitable Bosniaks” who “at any cost must be prevented from seizing freedom.”
A more in-depth analysis of conspiracy theories and other narratives and mechanisms used in public discourse can be read in the Genocide Denial Report 2020 published by the Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial Centre.
Ripple effects in the region and in the diaspora
Numerous world leaders issued statements on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša, decided to weaponise the anniversary and target his political opponents from the ranks of the Slovenian Social Democrats, whom he frequently labels as “communists.”
He said in a Twitter post that: “The massacre in Srebrenica would not have happened if we had cleansed the territory of the former Yugoslavia of communist ideology after the breakup, and if post-war massacres in Slovenia and elsewhere had been condemned,” provoking fierce reactions in Bosnia and Herzegovina and condemnations and comments in mainstream media throughout the former Yugoslavia.
In an attempt to explain his statement, he later pointed out that the genocide in Srebrenica “was conceived by the evil that was raised in the communist school of the JNA under the red star”, causing even more backlash.
And while the online messaging around the 25th anniversary led to fierce divisions among social media users in Slovenia along political lines, Balkan diaspora communities were mostly divided along national lines.
The online clash of diaspora communities was visible in the comments under texts about Srebrenica published on mainstream media portals of the countries in which they live, such as Germany or Austria. One of the many examples of this conflict in the reader comment section was visible underneath the text “Oppose those who deny genocide” published in the weekly Zeit, written by the director of the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s Sarajevo office, which covers Bosnia and Herzegovina, Northern Macedonia and Albania. Some readers reprimanded him for being biased and for not presenting a Serbian view of the war events.
These online conflicts were also manifested offline. In the city of Mannheim, in western Germany where numerous Balkan diaspora communities live. A graffiti commemorating Srebrenica was painted on a wall, soon after which it was defaced with Serb national symbols and the name of Ratko Mladić.
Photo: Twitter Screenshot
The conflict between the diaspora communities around Srebrenica was also fueled by a text on the online portal Serbian Times, which published an article about a girl of Serbian origin who, thanks to a seminar paper on the topic of the “Bosnian genocide” and her father’s subsequent action, managed to get the wording that Serbia committed genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina removed from school books in Chicago.
This text, titled “Serbian justice in the city of Hillary Clinton: With her school assignment, Katarina erased lies from American textbooks about Serbs as murderers and about Tesla and Đoković as war criminals!”, reached almost 900.000 Facebook users, prompting about 45.000 interactions, including more than 4.000 comments.
Although there is a brief explanation in the text that the omission of the word genocide “does not refer to the genocide in Srebrenica but to the alleged aggression of Serbia against Bosnia and Herzegovina”, the reactions of the readers indicate that many had the impression that the curriculum for schools in District 64 would no longer mention genocide in the context of Srebrenica. A reaction also followed from representatives of the Bosniak community, who contacted the school principal, who confirmed that the topic of genocide was still part of the teaching material.
Dua Lipa’s opinions on autochotony and ajvar cause a stir
Photo: Twitter Screenshot
British pop star Dua Lipa, created a social media storm in the Balkans, when she posted a photo on her Twitter and Instagram profiles containing a flag of “Greater Albania” and the images of the founding father of Albania Ismail Qemali and the leader of Albanian fighters from Kosovo, Isa Boletini. The photo was accompanied by her message: “autochthonous – adjective (of an inhabitant of a place) indigenous rather than descended from migrants or colonists”. Dua Lipa’s family hails from Kosovo.
This single post provoked an eruption of reactions on social media and online conflicts, not only in the Balkans and among Balkan diaspora communities around the world, but also, due to Lipa’s celebrity, among those who were previously not interested in the Balkans.
Two days after the controversy, Dua Lipa posted an explanation on Twitter and on Instagram, stating that her previous post was never intended to incite hatred, and that the post was “deliberately misinterpreted” by those seeking to promote ethnic separatism, something she “completely reject[s]”.
The graphs below show a comparison of engagement with both the original posts and the huge discrepancy between interactions on Twiiter and Instagram. The biggest contribution to the impact of this post in the online ecosystem is the fact that Dua Lipa is a global music star who at that time was followed by more than 48.7 million people on Instagram. These circumstances led to more than 658,000 people to like the post and more than 50,000 to leave a comment.
Both of Dua Lipa’s posts have fueled a contestation of history in the Balkans. An analysis of the content of the comments on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram demonstrates that Dua Lipa’s post opened the floodgates for the competing arguments of “who was here first”, inadvertently giving oxygen to and shining a much bigger spotlight on narratives which are a staple of the region’s nationalist propaganda on all sides. Regardless of Dua Lipa’s purported good faith intentions, this case is an important lesson on the risks involved engaging influencers and celebrities as messengers.
On the other hand, the recent wave of interest, in this rather stale debate dealing with the autochthony question, inspired by Dua Lipa, also elevates some creative counter-narratives. In response to Dua Lipa’s tweet with the map of “Greater Albania”, Twitter users started posting humorous maps, such as a map of “Greater Montenegro” including parts of Italy, a map of “Greater Italy,” a “map of the autochthonous Sarajevo Canton” and a map of the autochthonous area which was inhabited by the Neanderthals.
Photo: Twitter Screenshots
As a follow-up, Serb social media users led an effort directed against the musician to “cancel” Dua by promoting the hashtag #CancelDuaLipa and calling for and instructed others to report the posts for “incitement to terrorism, extreme nationalism and fascism”. In social media they shared the official UK forms for reporting persons suspected of the mentioned crimes, explaining in detail how the form should be filled out.
The interethnic conflict on social media was additionally “spiced up” by a story about Ajvar, which was mentioned in an interview that Dua Lipa gave for the show First We Feast, aired just two days after the controversial post. When asked which Albanian delicacy everyone must try before they die, Dua Lipa, among other things, mentioned Ajvar. The director illustrated this part of the story about this delicacy that is made all across the Balkans with a photo showing a jar of “Leskovački ajvar”, a brand from of the Serbian town of Leskovac.
Although the interview was intended for pop music fans, it quickly became the lightning rod for another regional dispute. A large number of the 14,280 YouTube comments concerns the original “nationality” of Ajvar. The level of polemic this stirred only among the Serbian online public, is illustrated by the fact that just one text about the so-called “Ajvar affair”, published by the portal B92.net, reached more than 1.26 million Facebook users, prompting more than 57,000 interactions.
 Analysing the data for this post on Twitter and Instagram by using the app CrowdTangle, as well as its shares on the social media platforms Facebook and Reddit, this content reached nearly 54 million users of these four social media platforms, prompting a total of more than 755,000 interactions.
 This video had 2.9 million views and more than 113,000 interactions on YouTube, while it reached more than 7.4 users on Facebook, prompting about 2,150 interactions on that platform.
The Resonant Voices Initiative in the EU is funded by the European Union’s Internal Security Fund – Police.
The content of this report represents the views of the Resonant Voices Initiative’s media monitoring team and is the sole responsibility of the Resonant Voices Initiative. The European Commission does not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.