The National Coordinator for Strategic Communications in the Government of North Macedonia, Marjan Zabrchanec, took part at the United Nations High-Level Thematic Debate on Digital Cooperation and Connectivity last night through a video address.
The debate between the UN members took place in light of the urgent need to address the digital gap and the need for digital cooperation and connectivity worldwide, aimed at adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic and implementing exit strategies. National Coordinator Zabrchanec addressed the importance of combating misinformation, the need for vigilance and joint cooperation of all United Nations member states, along with the need to share experiences, unite and strongly oppose disinformers who are a threat to the world democracies.
Zabrchanec in front of UN: Through transparency and rapid informing of the citizens, we oppose disinformation
To lie is disgraceful. To expose a lie is courageous.
Misinformation today is the biggest undermining tool against the democratic and reform processes in the world.
Para-news is intended to undermine the rule of law, political stability, to create hatred between people and nations, to corrupt and influence journalists, and to reduce trust in governments.
It is a weapon in the hands of regressive forces and propagandists of homophobia, anti-vaccination, nationalism and all forms of radicalism. From political to religious and ideological.
I represent North Macedonia, the country that in 2018 overcame a 3 decade long problem with its neighbor Greece and reached an agreement on our constitutional name, which was a condition for our NATO membership, and for moving towards European Union membership.
During the referendum when the citizens declared whether they are IN FAVOR of a solution with Greece and thus IN FAVOR of further membership of North Macedonia in NATO and the EU, our country was exposed to a strong campaign of misinformation and manipulation.
New suspicious web portals, social media pages, mysterious “likes” and “shares” have appeared. Posts containing hate speech, orchestrated anonymous positions and commentaries, photo manipulations - all aimed at influencing our people to deviate from our national strategic commitment - NATO and EU membership.
We opposed, timely and quickly, using transparency to those who created misinformation from mysterious communication centers and we did not allow them to avert us from the strategic direction.
In our bitter experience with misinformation we have a case of a hybrid attack by foreign pranksters, who through our consular mission, with a fictitious, but seemingly real web site and domain, scheduled a telephone conversation with the Prime Minister of North Macedonia abusing the identity of the young Eco-Activist, Greta Thunberg.
We immediately disclosed this case to the public and to Greta's family. By doing this we intercepted their intentions. The audio of that manipulative phone call was released a few months later, in the run-up to the parliamentary elections in order to directly influence the will of the voters and the outcome of the elections.
The manipulation failed because the audio post was not big news. In fact, it was old false news that we have previously exposed ourselves.
This example only shows that the misinformation also aims at influencing the election results, and which political structure will lead the country.
Just a few months later Canadian PM Justin Trudeau had fallen victim to the same pranksters - Vovan and Lexus.
To be deceived by pranksters who steal Greta Thunberg's identity is not shameful. But to speak about it publicly and globally is courageous and is a necessity.
We need to be vigilant and accept that dealing with disinformation will be our everyday job.
It requires tenacity, cooperation and forming of alliances.
We need to constantly expose to the public the false information and those who produce it.
We need to constantly share experiences, successful and unsuccessful, from dealing with disinformers.
Let the disinformers be ashamed, and let us cooperate better and stronger as soon as possible, let us put them to shame.
Let us unite and strongly oppose!