Balkan Troll of the Year

The Balkan Troll of the Month is an individual, a group of individuals or a media outlet that spreads hate on the internet based on gender, ethnicity, religion, or other diversity categories. The Balkan Troll is selected based on hate speech incidents identified across the Western Balkans region.

Instead of the December Troll, our audience helped us select the Troll of the Year. After several stages of voting the  results came in, and we had not one, but two Troll of the Year: the first being a private group on Facebook based in North Macedonia who shared private images without consent and the second TV Pink in Serbia which spread misogynistic narratives.

In order to end the year 2021 with an overarching troll of the year, the voting process was opened up to the public. With the use of Instagram stories, the public and fellow RDN 2.0 followers were offered the opportunity to vote for their chosen troll of the month. After four rounds of intense voting, the results came out and pointed to a tie between a private group from North Macedonia and television Pink from Serbia. Both these incidents were chosen by the public (with the equal number of votes) as highly insensitive and note-worthy incidents which deserved to be exposed and presented as this year’s Balkan Trolls.

The first troll relates to a private Facebook group in North Macedonia which shared a number of private photos of underage Roma girls without their consent. It soon became known that the group consisted of over 2000 members who were sharing a number of photos of underage Roma girls. Furthermore, accompanying the photos, there appeared a number of hateful comments and sexist narratives. This included the negative labelling of the girls as ‘indecent’ only further spreading sexism and discrimination.

Unfortunately, this is not the first instance of such an incident taking place within the country. The public room incident which first appeared in 2020 through the social network Telegram, involved the sharing and promoting of private photos and videos. All of these photos and information was shared and spread without the consent of the individuals involved. The group was reported to originally consist of “some 7,400 members and according to the reports, in some instances, the group also contained the alleged identities of the individuals.

This is an example of a highly criminal and illegal instance of the spread of gender-based violence and sexist narratives which are upheld within society.

Following a public outcry, the group sharing the private photos of Roma girls has since been deleted from Facebook with a number of human rights NGOs pointing out and demanding legal action against those who created the group.

Nevertheless, the problem still remains and persists even two years onwards. Sexist and patriarchal values persist within society and are only further promoted and maintained by such incidents. This further highlights the mechanisms of protection in place on social media platforms and their response to such sexist content. Social media regulations should prevent such scandals from taking place by removing such content from the platform. They have both a moral and legal duty to ensure that such content is not shared and promoted while simultaneously, allowing gender-based violence and sexual harassment to slide under the radar.

Unfortunately, it has recently been revealed that a new group was formed in the city of Gevgelija called ‘GevgelijaHub’. The group was formed on social media and its members have been sharing pictures of local girls without their permission. Despite a number of girls having initiated a police procedure, a year later, this case has still not been resolved. The role of Meta, new name of the company that owns Facebook, has once more been pointed out, as prosecution is now waiting for them to reveal the IP addresses of those individuals who shared these photos and pictures.

The second troll involved TV Pink, a privately owned TV station with a national frequency in Serbia, who gave the platform to a former Serbian football player and coach, Dušan Savić. During the morning show ‘Novo Jutro’ on the TV Pink, former football player and coach shared his opinion of the recent legal case against Miroslav Aleksić – a director and acting teacher released from prison following several rape allegations against him. He has been let out of custody to fight against the allegations against him.

One of the allegations came from actress Milena Radulović who aired her accusations to newspaper Blic during an interview alongside charges against Aleksić. Back in January of 2021, the Belgrade High Court ordered for a “30-day custody remand” for the well-known acting teacher in response to a number of rape allegations. Aleksić is known among other things, for his acting school in which many of today’s actors and actresses attended from all ages. It soon came about that during the “last eight years, Aleksić reportedly raped and sexually harassed at least eight of his students”.

After the emergence and reveal of such allegations, the movement #MeToo blew up in the country only further revealing the sexist and misogynistic ways women continue to be treated. Within Serbia the hashtag #NisiSama (you are not alone) emerged as a response to the number of women who stepped forward and revealed the number of rape and sexual harassment cases against Miroslav Aleksić. This had a knock-on effect on other women stepping forward and presenting their stories with the support of women from the whole region.

Savić went on to comment and mention that such accusations are not “only about Mika Aleksić, it’s a much deeper story and more dangerous”. He went on to add that the affair was indeed falsely constructed  and planned. The host of the morning show added how “people do all sorts of things for 5 minutes of fame”. This comment is problematic for a number of reasons, not only for the fact that it further promotes rape and sexual harassment denial.

These narratives are extremely dangerous and run the risk of silencing victims on the fear that their experience will not be taken seriously but rather construed in a way that undermines and downplays the issue at hand.

Savić went on to accuse the recent rape allegations as a tool for attacking the Serbian nation suggesting that rather than being actual accounts of victims of violence towards women such stories were a mechanism of attacking the nation. He went as far as to claim that all these stories were indeed ‘made up’, arguing that this “made-up affair” started “when there was a lot of lobbying around the world for the propaganda Muslim movie (Quo vadis, Aida)” – a movie set during the Srebrenica genocide.

Such accusations are both extremely dangerous and xenophobic as well as running the risk of promoting genocide denial. TV Pink has a responsibility to react and stand up to such sexist, misogynistic and xenophobic comments which are further spread to the public and maintained in society.

TV Pink violated several rules and regulations in place for the protection of human rights in the field of media services. The most notable was Article 26 which explicitly states that when informing about violence or tragic event, the media service provider is obliged to do that in a way that will not violate the human dignity of the victim of violence or tragic event nor a person close to them, and especially in a way that they are not exposed to repeated suffering.