July 4, 2023

The Balkan Troll of the Month is an individual, group of individuals, or a media outlet that spread hate 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.

The month of June is typically dedicated to LGBTQ+ Pride Month with celebrations and festivities organised throughout the month. In the Western Balkans, several countries hosted their annual Pride parades, including Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia who celebrated their fourth pride in Sarajevo and Skopje, and Kosovo who organised their Pride parade in Pristina. For those celebrating, Pride is an important time and reminder towards the promotion of human rights and equality for all individuals, and unfortunately, many have taken this occasion as an opportunity to spread hateful and harmful narratives towards the LGBTQ+ community, including various media reporting and the negative public comment section of articles and online media.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the annual pride was held for the fourth time in Sarajevo on the 24th of June. A day later, political magazine ‘Stav’ published a text in which it gave a ‘warning to parents to protect their children from the ‘paedophiles’ on social media channels for meeting LGBTQ+ individuals. The text, whose headline read ‘paedophilia on LGBT profiles in Bosnia and Herzegovina’ also had a smaller heading, highlighted in red reading ‘children are in danger.’ Attached to the text, was an upsetting image of a young child with their mouth covered by the hands of an obviously older individual. Violent imagery used in media reports on potential violence can be damaging and retraumatising for victims and others affected by that type of violence – in this case, sexual violence towards children. The media should refrain from using images that simulate or show direct violence.

The article discusses several Instagram profiles aimed towards meeting LGBTQ+ individuals. In these profiles there are screenshots of messages seeking for individuals to date and send ‘hot photos’ whose ages range from 13 years and above. The article includes numerous screenshots from these profiles, including directly quoting some of the messages, in an attempt to highlight the dangerous behaviour and rhetoric on these profiles. Although the article makes a point to not generalise such behaviour, it still suggests that groups named LGBTQ+ on social media include paedophile predators.

The text continues to note that this is ‘not the first time that paedophilia in these areas is closely linked to the LGBTIQ population’ using certain examples and cases as evidence in support of such a statement. The author continues to promote the idea that there are numerous examples of when the LGBTQ+ population has justified their connection with paedophilia. The article even goes as far as to claim that there are claims that paedophilia is slowly moving towards being portrayed as a ‘sexual orientation’. Furthermore, the article criticises the LGBTQ+ community for, according to the text, ‘using children for their own promotion’ as the author claims that many more children are turning up to Pride parades and LGBTQ+ activities since they are attracted to the colours and fun.

The narrative this text uses is clearly aimed against the LGBTQ+ community, even though it is presented as just a concern for children’s safety and protection from sexual abuse on the internet. The author’s examples are concerning, and must be investigated by relevant authorities; however, such examples exist in many similar online channels and groups that are not made for the LGBTQ+ community which the author fails to mention. Instagram profiles where an online user can anonymously look for a relationship are common in the Western Balkans, where many children with profiles can be at risk. The groups the author mentions can also be a threat for LGBTQ+ teens, which is also overlooked in this text. When tackling topics as serious as sexual abuse of children, journalists must focus on ethical reporting of children’s safety. This can be done by providing space in the media for experts whose knowledge can help the broader public to better understand online and sexual violence towards children and learn about preventative methods and online safety. Using this topic to target the LGBTQ+ community breaches professional journalistic standards.

Magazine Stav is a publication which has written about the LGBTQ+ community and the Pride parade in an insulting manner in the past. A magazine like Stav has a large audience reach and should be responsible as well as held accountable for what they publish and share. Linking paedophilia with the LGBTQ+ community is not only extremely harmful, it is incorrect and misleading. Most importantly, using examples from a social media account on Instagram is not a basis or justification to make such serious claims and accusations. Publishing a text like this one which spreads fear and misinformation surrounding members of the LGBTQ+ community can promote homophobia and division in society.