Disinformation is one of the main challenges of democracy in 2019. It is a tool used for manipulating citizens. The abuse of technology for generating false entities and non-existent and fictional events has seriously disrupted the democratic and election processes and is severely threatening the trust which the citizens have for the institutions and media.
In the past two years the Republic of North Macedonia, on several occasions, has faced mass spreading of disinformation, both on social networks and traditional media. Parts of these disinformation campaigns were shared from outside of the country.
The Republic of North Macedonia was marked as the "fake news capitol", when it was discovered in 2016, that in Veles there were numerous fake websites and Facebook profiles that were sharing disinformation in the USA, during their presidential election.
In response to these cyber threats and in pursuance to the efforts for openness, accountability and transparency, the Government is working on an Action Plan for managing disinformation on systemic level. Our objective is to enhance the national security and safety of our citizens while defending and advancing democracy.
This Proposed Action plan is a compilation of processes, projects, measures and recommendations for fighting disinformation, prepared as a result of the measures of the European Commission, NATO Information and Communications Agency, as well as the Committee of Experts on Quality Journalism within the Council of Europe, through the membership of a representative from PM's cabinet, the advisor Zoran Bojarovski.
Furthermore, the British Government has provided enormous contribution to our wider initiatiave for professionalization of the communications in the Government and the PR services, also USAID, as well as the European Network for Digital Diplomacy supported by the U.S. Department of State. The PM's advisor on Digital Communications, Ilija Zhupanoski is a member of the Steering committee within this European Network for Digital Diplomacy.
This Action Plan presented today will be further discussed within the institutions, and will be subject to consultations with the civic sector, media and various stakeholders within the society, including the strategic partners of the Republic of North Macedonia, in order to refine it to its final version. We want to use this public presentation to start a new phase in our organized approach in mitigating the attacks of our democracy.
This proposed Action Plan has two components: Security measures and pro-active measures.
The security measures include:
(1) Revising the existing and creating new, where needed, internal security protocols for communication in the institutions and communication with external entities, in order to decrease the possibility for leaking of sensitive information.
(2) Upgrading the security protocols for digital communication for all administrative officers, for securely using the Internet, work e-mails, work mobile phones, etc.
The reinforced security protocol will be presented to the administrative officers by conducting an internal proactive campaign.
(3) We will reinforce the internal IT infrastructure within the Government and the ministries, as well as the system for network traffic control, all in order to prevent external attacks to the IT infrastructure.
(4) The PM will have a new telephone number and a new mobile device, with additional security protocol for digital communications.
(5) We will establish a Crisis communication protocol between the Government's communication service and the ministries, for accurate and timely stoping the spread of disinformation via social media and internet portals, in the interest of presenting the truth for the public's benefit.
Proactive measures will be undertaken for the following:
(6) Engaging in active transparency, in order for the Government to be open of it's work to the citizens and to increase the citizens’ trust in the institutions.
The new “Strategy for Transparency” will establish the standards for the system which propose a list of documents and informations of public interest that will be published and updated by the institutions in given time intervals.
By publishing and sharing facts and truthful information we are decreasing the chance for the spread of disinformation.
(7) The Government will use its website to publish official responses to questions from the media and citizens, in order to prevent falsly representing official viewpoints of the Government.
(8) The Government will establish a Task force for combating disinformation and attacks on democracy that will be made up of representatives from the Offices of the President of the Republic of North Macedonia, of the President of the Government, Assembly of the Republic of North Macedonia, the Cabinet of the Minister without portfolio, in charge of communications, transparency and accountability, the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Information Society and Administration, Office for Security and Counterintelligence, Office for Intelligence and others. Their work will include analysis and monitoring the spread of misinformation and disinformation in the public sphere and coordinating the fight against the democracy.
The Minister without portfolio for communications, transparency and accountability, Robert Popovski, will be in charge of the coordination of this Task force, as assigned by the Government of the Republic of North Macedonia, while the special advisor for PR to the PM, Marjan Zabrchanec, will be assigned from the Office of the President of the Government.
(9) The Task force and the Government will conduct education campaigns in the public interest, for the existence and the damaging impact which disinformation has over the society and our democracy.
(10) Furthermore, the Government will conduct internal communication campaigns for employees of the public administration, for the existence and damaging impact of disinformation.
(11) The Task force will actively cooperate with all social media networks, which are mostly used for fast distribution of disinformation. They will be informed of profiles and publications spreading disinformation and we, as a country, will actively be part of their programs for informing the citizens and fighting disinformation.
(12) The Government will initiate a process of creating a National strategy for media literacy which will involve activities of the institutions, media and civic sector.
Media literacy programs will be prevalent in the education programs, for which the Ministry of education and science is responsible.
The Government will support and will be an active partner of the civic sector in implementing programs and trainings for media literacy and will conduct education on media literacy of the employees within the state administration institutions.
(13) Moreover, the Government will actively stimulate discussion between the media, media associations and the civic sector in order to achieve self-regulation, co-regulation and determining media standards for internet portals, in compliance with the recommendations issued by the European Commission and the Council of Europe.
(14) The Government will introduce clear criteria on which media is accredited to follow the Government's events and press-conferences, in accordance with the standards for journalism.
(15) We will open a discussion with the media for determining a model for support of generating media content with which they will combat disinformation, as well as support for educational programs and trainings intended for media workers in order to make them professionally sensible in the fight against disinformation.
(16) The Government and the institutions will actively cooperate with all organizations and projects that work with fact checking by providing timely response to their questions.
(17) The Government will initiate the organizations that are dealing with fact checking to create a register for exposed disinformation and publish a list of sources that spread false information.
(18) The Republic of North Macedonia will initiate cooperation with the European Commission and will request inclusion in the Rapid Alert System in order to exchange information about disinformation topics around EU member states.
During the fight against disinformation, the Government will continue its active cooperation with the strategic partners: EU and NATO.
This is only a part of the comprehensive measures that are being undertaken for resolute action in the fight against disinformation, as well as media manipulation, with one single purpose - the protection of the public and national interest of the citizens, from the damages that are caused by these events.