Disinformation, information manipulation and interference are forms of hybrid threats manifesting across the world. The threat is expanding, and a growing number of actors are using an increasing number of tactics. This is a global challenge also affecting the Western Balkans.

Countering disinformation and building societal resilience

Dealing with this challenge requires a whole-of-government and a whole-of-society approach, which the EU is supporting across the region.

Strengthening partnerships with international and local organizations – on both government and non-government sides – helps build the resilience of local populations to disinformation, and increases the capacity of the Western Balkans partners to handle these threats. This work remains crucial for strengthening democracy, for example in relation to protecting the integrity of elections, access to information, and media freedom.

Increasing media literacy is also of high importance. Being able to critically assess, use and create information is a key skill in the 21st century, allowing citizens to navigate the information environment and make well-informed choices. It also facilitates their responsible participation in political processes and voting in democratic elections, free from interference and manipulation. 

In line with the overall EU efforts in this field, the EU supports activities to enhance media literacy in the Western Balkans. This includes research studies which raise awareness and build social resilience such as “Disinformation in the Online Sphere: The Case of BiH” and "Disinformation and Information Distortion in North Macedonia", capacity-building projects (see examples below), organising of workshops for high school students and teachers, and social media campaigns such as the Macedonian “Vazno e da ne e lazno!” (It is important it is not fake), where athletes, actors, musicians, journalists, teachers and young activists took part in campaign videos to help promote critical thinking. 

The EU also supports the work of international, regional and local civil society organisations such as fact-checkers, whose work in the region is of paramount importance for countering disinformation and enhancing public awareness and media literacy. The Third-Party Fact-Checking partnership between Western Balkans fact-checkers and Facebook was a clear recognition of the crucial role of regional fact-checkers. One of them, Tijana Cvjetićanin of BiH organisation Raskrinkavanje, was portrayed in the 2021 edition of the EEAS social media campaign “Europeans making a difference”:

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Since 2020, the EU is organising the EU – Western Balkans Media Literacy Conference in partnership with civil society organisations in the region. The second edition took place in September 2021 as a hybrid event in Skopje and online, following the first edition held in Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Brussels and online. This annual event gathers fact-checkers, youth, journalists and authorities from the Western Balkans and the EU to discuss media literacy and the fight against disinformation, and has become an important meeting place for exchange and for formulating strategies for going forward. 

An essential outcome of the conference is the publication of conclusions, which in 2021 stressed the need for all stakeholders to work together, the inclusion of media literacy in formal education, support to professional journalism and media freedom as an essential component for democracy, and transparency of government and authorities. Around the conference, workshops and study visits are arranged, as well as social media campaigns such as "Words matter"