From Propaganda to Fake News: How Misinformation and Disinformation Flourished During North Attack

Following an attack by organized and armed groups in a village in Northern Kosovo, which resulted in the death of a police officer, misinformation and disinformation quickly spread in Kosovo and Serbia media outlets.

The killing of a Kosovar policeman in Northern Kosovo has triggered a surge of fake news, both on social media and in news outlets within Kosovo. Additionally, in Serbia, some tabloids chose to employ sensational and propagandistic language in the headlines of Monday, rather than providing objective reporting. 

An example of this propaganda language was seen in a headline from the tabloid Alo, which read, “Kurtis terrorists kill Serbs. These monsters have wounded people dying.”

“Welcome to the propaganda parallel universe of the regime in Serbia,” wrote Vedran Dzihic, senior researcher at the Austrian Institute for International Affairs, when commenting on the headlines.

“There’s a lot of unverified content going around, mainly from Serbian nationalist and far-right Telegram channels,” tweeted Una Hajdari, an independent journalist, on Monday.  

Adding to the complexity, several Serbian media outlets are under the control of the Serbian government, making it even more challenging to expect impartial reporting. Misleading and manipulative information occupy a significant portion of news in some of the Serbian media, a study by the civil society organization CRTA  (Center for Research, Transparency and Accountability) found.

Prishtina Insight fact-checked some of the false information that circulated on Sunday and Monday.

“Ten serbian terrorist killed”

On Sunday, as the exchange of gunfire between the police and the assailants unfolded, various news portals and social media falsely reported different casualty figures. Gazeta MejdaniLajmi ne kohë  and Gjakova Sot claimed there were eight terrorists killed. Other portals reported different numbers, but none of them were confirmed by the Police. So far the official number of casualties stands at three. 

“Photos of the terrorist that got killed”

Numerous photos of a purportedly slain Serbian raider surfaced the internet. News media shared photos of Radomir Poçuça, claimed to be one of the criminals that had been shot by Kosovo Police. The story was even shared by Albania’s former PM, Sali Berisha, who said This is one of the terrorists killed!”. The post received over 3000 likes so far and was shared 42 times. 

Only that they shared false information. 

Radomir Poçuça, a former Serbian anti-terrorist police spokesperson who allegedly fought alongside pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine in 2014, refuted rumors of his death on his Facebook page, stating: “I didn’t die, nor do I plan to – there’s no bullet with my name on it yet.”

The names of the killed Serbian terrorists are Stefan Nedelkovic, Igor Milenkovic and Bojan Mijailovic, as the Kosovo Police stated.

“Old video pretended to be new”

Internews Kosova, a facebook third party fact checker for BIRN Kosovo identified a video that was falsely claiming to be evidence of the special forces heading to the North to safeguard Kosovo’s border. The video was published on a Facebook platform called “Forcat Speciale” on Sunday, accompanied by a call for widespread sharing.  

BIRN discovered that the footage was not shot on Sunday as the platform claimed but it is actually two years old, having been recorded and published in 2021. 

The falsely contextualized video is still online and has garnered one and a half thousand views. 

“Orthodox Church Monks questioned by police”

Following media reports about the hiding of the perpetrators in the Banjska monastery, suspicions arose about the monks of the orthodox church being involved with the criminal group. 

Capitalizing on these suspicions, the Indeks Online news portal suggested that three monks seen in front of the police station in Prishtina may have been interrogated in connection to Sunday’s events. The portal wrote “Their [monks’] presence in Prishtina is probably related to the fate of the pilgrims who were used by Serbian terrorists in Banjska, Zveçan.”

The accusation was strongly denied by the representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church in a statement posted on Monday. 

“The church had nothing to do with these tragic events and monks and pilgrims only found themselves in the crossfire”. They then went on to criticize the “surge of misinformation and fake news spreading” and the threats that members of their monastery therefore have received. Nevertheless, the statement is not available anymore. The monastery deleted it from their page. 

“The image of the dead soldier”

A picture of a deceased soldier lying in the grass circulated on Monday in multiple Kosovo media, including “Deçani”, “Suhareka Express”, “” and was also published by the Albanian portal “”. They stated that the man in the photograph “is the next terrorist killed, ready to attack the Police!” and also alleged that “another terrorist was killed in the north today”. However the Internews fact check disproved these claims, revealing that the picture was taken in Azerbaijan and initially published by “” in April 2016. 

In turbulent situations misinformation tends to proliferate, as past incidents have shown. Earlier this year Prishtina Insight reported on how tensions and incidents in December in the north of Kosovo have sparked an avalanche of inaccurate or fake news reports.

Disclaimer: This article was last updated on September 28 at 10:40 am to include the names of the deceased terrorists. In a previous version, the newspaper “Sinjali” was erroneously included in the list of media outlets that allegedly misreported the number of casualties. It has been removed from the list as their report was considered an unverified claim rather than an established fact.

26/09/2023 - 18:46

26 September 2023 - 18:46

Prishtina Insight is a digital and print magazine published by BIRN Kosovo, an independent, non-governmental organisation. To find out more about the organization please visit the official website. Copyright © 2016 BIRN Kosovo.