Balkans most susceptible to 'fake news', study finds

People protest against the government in Macedonia in April 2016.
People protest against the government in Macedonia in April 2016. Copyright REUTERS
By Sallyann Nicholls with Jenny Hauser
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Living in Macedonia, Albania or Bulgaria? How susceptible do you think you are to 'fake news'? A new study by the Open Society Institute has ranked countries according to their resilience to disinformation. Here are the results.


The second annual media literacy index is out, which ranks European countries according to their resilience to fake news.

Published by the Open Society Institute of Sofia, which is chaired by investor George Soros, 35 countries are listed according to their quality of education, media freedom and public trust.

It found Balkan countries to be among the most vulnerable to the spread of fake news, described as “rumors, hoaxes, outright lies, and disinformation from foreign governments or hostile entities”.

Meanwhile, researchers deemed the Scandinavian countries, as well as the Netherlands, Sweden and Estonia, to be best equipped to resist “post-truth” information “in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.

Fake news fighters: The best and worst

Macedonia and Turkey ranked lowest for media literacy due to poor education, low public trust and low media freedom.

Out of the 35 countries listed, Macedonians scored the lowest in terms of reading literacy (352), far below a “very good” count of 500, and the lowest in public trust (3.7 out of 10).

The former Yugoslavian state also ranked second-lowest for media freedom, based on surveys from watchdogs Freedom House and Reporters without Borders. The former cites the arrest and imprisonment of journalists, and the creation of biased regulatory bodies and pro-government state TV as reasons for its poor performance.

Yet Turkey has earned the lowest score (0) for media freedom in Europe, due to Ankara’s purge of media outlets following a failed military coup in 2016, the poor treatment of journalists, and restrictive telecommunication laws according to the latest Freedom of the Press index.

At the top of the media literacy leaderboard, however, is Finland with a total score of 76 out of 100. The nation’s “strong public education system” and “widespread critical thinking skills” are considered key to its resistance against fake news. Denmark is the second strongest European performer, followed by the Netherlands, Sweden and Estonia, all of which achieved high scores in education, public trust and media freedom.

Education is key

Pointing to the results of a European survey on fake news, education is the "key ingredient" to diminishing the impact of disinformation, according to the study.

"Respondents with a higher level of education tend to trust more various sources (radio, television, online, etc.)," the report says. 

"Also, respondents with a higher level of education say they come across fake news more often and they feel more confident identifying it," it adds.

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