One would assume that people who run misinformation websites would try to hide their true identity due to the perceived amorality of this business.
That is not the case in Serbia.
The country’s misinformation landscape is dominated by established, out-in-the-open websites rather than anonymous, for-profit misinformation websites that have mushroomed, for example, in Bosnia and Herzegovina. These Serbian websites employ highly organized marketing teams that produce detailed advertising price lists and deal directly rather than via Google AdSense with customers who wish to advertise on their platforms.
“Unlike anonymous misinformation websites, they are not dependent on AdSense and do not have to move to a different domain if Google revokes the AdSense agreements,” according to Misinformation Inc., a report edited by our director Marius Dragomir.
The misinformation platforms in Serbia have conventional ownership structures, which are often convoluted. Individual shareholders can be identified by tracing the connections between various companies.
The two most prominent figures who appear in misinformation articles are Dragan Đilas, the head of the main opposition party, and President Aleksandar Vučić, leader of the ruling party. Đilas is generally portrayed in a negative light while Vučić is almost always covered positively.
That is a strong indication that misinformation websites are in majority decisively pro-government. “This not only means that it is easier to conduct business for those who favor the government, but also that positive coverage is rewarded by government in the form of public money for ‘media projects of public importance,’ approving deferments on tax payments, and loans,” Semir Dzebo, the report’s author wrote.
The third most prominent person covered by misinformation sites in Serbia is Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is constantly represented positively.
In such an environment, it is difficult for anonymous misinformation websites to attract large audiences. The misinformation powerhouses dwarf them, but at the same time make their job easier giving them plenty of content to repost it.
“The hard part is competing with the outreach and infrastructure that large misinformation websites have,” the report concludes.