As part of the Regional Initiative in Combating Disinformation “Western Balkans Anti-Disinformation Hub: Exposing Malign Influences through Watchdog Journalism”, we present you a new analysis of fake news and disinformation narratives.
Jovana Brajović: Because of work, I was a bot for SNS, I insulted people and I am ashamed
This week, the current topic was SNS bots. With that, we will analyze media representations of SNS bots, namely members of the ruling political party who, through social networks and comments on media portals, provide immense support for the politics of Aleksandar Vučić. This topic became viral on June 6, when parts of a list of more than 14,000 names and accounts on social networks appeared on Dragan Vidaković’s Twitter profile. In the continuation of his posts, Dragan Vidaković even mentions that he paid 15,000 EUR for this list, but without specifying to whom.
Portal N1 then broadcasts an interview (video interview) with a former member of the official internet team of the Serbian Progressive Party, Jovana Brajović from Surdulica. In the interview, Mrs. Brajović testifies about her position in SNS and the tasks she performed.
As N1 states, “She got a job from them, as she testifies, for them she agreed to insult and disparage not only political dissidents, but also their coalition partners, members of the Socialist Party of Serbia.” She received instructions from Dragan Stevanović-Boske, State Secretary in the Ministry of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure. One of the fake profiles she used was a profile under the name “Ksenija Savić”, according to what is written on Facebook, she is connected to different places in Serbia, none of which is Surdulica, where Mrs. Brajović is actually from. In the description of this bot profile under the name “Ksenija Savić”, it is stated that this fictitious person was born in 1989, that she is from Niš and lives in Belgrade, as well as that she studied at the Faculty of Philology and works at the Faculty of Medicine. “I had that main profile of Ksenija, and at the same time I had 10, 10 more fake profiles. I worked under the instructions of Dragan Stevanović – Boske”, says Jovana Brajović.
The media portal Srbin info reports that the list of bots is distributed throughout Serbia. Srbin Info states that “although the regime and Soros media do not report on it, the biggest news in Serbia is currently the extensive list of SNS bots in cities and regions, who have been insulting political dissidents for years for a salary from the budget (at the people’s expense). The list also includes some MPs, employees in municipalities, teaching staff, teachers, workers employed in Social Centers, cultural and public institutions. Since the complete list was published on Twitter by Dragan Vidaković Mrki, it continued to spread further through Viber, Facebook and other networks. The official Twitter profile of the Dveri party states that SNS uses more than 200 million euros (through the payment of salaries from the budget of the Republic of Serbia, which work as SNS bots instead of their jobs) annually to pay for bots.
After the mentioned list of names and accounts on the social networks Twitter, Facebook, Tik Tok and Instagram was leaked to the public through Twitter, which allegedly share content similar to that shared through the official channels of the Serbian Progressive Party and its committees in an organized manner, the activity of these accounts on the Internet was not interrupted. Journalists of the media portal Radio Free Europe analyzed more than 2,200 tweets in which the name of Aleksandar Vučić was mentioned, during the visit of the President of Montenegro, Jakov Milatović. Within minutes, the same messages flooded Twitter. RSE‘s analysis shows that, apart from messages from a large number of municipal committees and retweets of official messages from the main website of the Serbian Progressive Party, from 95 accounts acting as individual users, the same message was sent in just a few hours.
The President of Serbia and now former leader of the Serbian Progressive Party, Aleksanadar Vučić, joined the SNS campaign “Yes, I’m an SNS bot” today, and on that occasion he published pictures on social networks. This campaign was started by SNS member Nebojša Bakarec, the pictures of young men and women that were used to promote this campaign were taken off the Internet with the inscription “I love Serbia and the Serbian Progressive Party more than anything in the world!” Yes, I’m an SNS bot”. The platform called Shutterstock from where the images were downloaded, the annual package costs slightly more than 1,900 euros, or 21 cents per image. Although the members of the SNS party are proud to call themselves and their supporters bots, no one, except for the party’s leadership, dared to post their picture, but pictures of the agency’s photo model from the aforementioned platform. This campaign was joined by the Minister of Internal Affairs, Bratislav Gašić, and the President of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, Marko Čadež. They posed in specially designed t-shirts that said I am a bot, while above there is an image from the game “Pacman” eating sandwiches with the logo of the Serbian Progressive Party (this was done because since 2015, the term sandwichers has been used for SNS internet bots due to the text published in Blic).
The Borba za Istinu portal broadcasts a news story called “Judah’s hordes – SNS bots” in which they give their overly emotional portrayal of SNS bots through religious motifs. Through biblical quotes about treason, they condemn people who work as bots for the government, claiming that they are dishonorable and evil.
The organization Digital Forensic Center, which according to available data operates under the Atlantic Council in Podgorica, claims to have discovered a new network of bot profiles in Serbia for political support of relations between Beijing and Belgrade. During the analysis of posts on Twitter, the Digital Forensic Center found 30,000 tweets from accounts from Serbia containing the keywords Serbia and China between March 9 and April 9, 2020, as many as 79.9 percent came from their list of bot accounts. “By analyzing the content, it can be seen that the primary task of the wide network of accounts was to glorify Serbian-Chinese friendship and the importance of Chinese aid during the corona virus epidemic. On the other hand, there was no lack of content criticizing the EU and the alleged lack of aid,” says DFC. Further analysis revealed that there are 1,124 bot profiles, while some accounts were created as early as 2009, the growth of the bot profile network began in 2018 when the “One in 5 Million” protests began. The network experienced full expansion in 2020, when an additional 954 profiles were created. The main goal of the bot account announcements was to strengthen the power of Aleksandar Vučić and also to strengthen public opinion oriented towards the People’s Republic of China.
Bots are one of the tools in the arsenal of parties to exert political influence. We are talking about people who are employed by a political party and who create profiles on social networks under a false name with the aim of deceiving public opinion in favor of politicians. The methods they use are supporting political parties, insulting and attacking their political opponents. The opinion they express on social networks is not their personal, but is targeted in favor of the promotion of a certain party’s policy. In the case of Jovana Brajović, we can see that these are persons who were blackmailed by their employers, under promises that they will receive money or a permanent job. The existence of such a developed network of people ready to exert influence through social networks opens up the possibility of supporting and spreading false information coming from abroad.
Author: Lazar Drekić