Deputy Chief of Mission Alyson Grunder’s Remarks at DISICON 2022

Deputy Chief of Mission Alyson Grunder’s Remarks at DISICON 2022, November 29, 2022

Good morning, it’s a pleasure to be with you all today.

On behalf of the U.S. Embassy, I thank Ambassador Soderberg and the National Democratic Institute for organizing this fourth consecutive information integrity conference – DISICON.

The Embassy is also grateful to all the participants, speakers, and experts who have come together at this conference to combat disinformation in Kosovo and prevent it from eroding democratic processes.

This is no small effort. Finding solutions to the problem of disinformation takes initiative, continuous partnership and intensive cooperation — and that is why we are here. Over the next two days, we hope that journalists and media practitioners, academic experts, NGOs, and government representatives will share their knowledge, build networks, and collaborate on solutions to fight disinformation.

This conference is so critical because it brings a cross-section of diverse actors together to discuss the shared challenges and shared solutions. Recognizing that disinformation has to be tackled at the international level, DISICON 4 includes perspectives from Kosovo, the broader Balkans region and Europe, Taiwan and the United States.

Unfortunately, we all see the role disinformation is playing in Russia’s tragic invasion of Ukraine. A recent disturbing example is the launch of Russia Today’s (RT) Serbian service which is expanding the spread of disinformation throughout the region on Putin’s unprovoked war on Ukraine.

The connections made here are vital to identifying and combatting disinformation in the Western Balkans, and in Kosovo, where foreign malign activity is ongoing and often increases amid political tensions.

I’m pleased to note that DISICON 4 will launch the first Vulnerability Index of Disinformation in Kosovo, measuring this country’s vulnerability to disinformation in three key areas: in Public Perception, in the Media Environment and on the Political Landscape.

Discussing the findings of this Vulnerability Index of Disinformation will raise awareness and understanding of the policy implications of disinformation for Kosovo.

Kosovo’s media environment is replete with misinformation, disinformation, and skewed narratives that are often shared thousands of times, within and across media outlets and social media.

As the recent NDI assessment on information integrity in Kosovo shows, Kosovo faces partisan divides, unresolved ethnic tensions, gender based-violence, misogyny, and vulnerabilities to unstable policy processes – tendencies that if unchecked can make Kosovo susceptible to antidemocratic narratives which spread quickly and have wide-ranging impacts on public opinion.

NDI public opinion polls illuminate the central role that social media plays in building public opinion in Kosovo, where 66 percent of the population relies on social media platforms to get their news updates.

These same polls show that 48 percent of Kosovo’s population does not undertake basic fact-checking steps as they consume news over social media. Instead, citizens turn to family and friends to verify information.

We know that democracies work best when citizens receive accurate information and can use it to hold their elected representatives accountable. We see around the globe how authoritarian governments attack the media and sow disinformation to consolidate their power. And we see how foreign influence plants seeds of anti-democratic and anti-Western attitudes across the Balkans.

Citizens, especially young people, have a vital role to play in countering disinformation. As youth get most of their information online, it is very important that they also have the tools to identify and confirm the veracity of information.

Empowering youth to recognize and counter misinformation helps ensure a functional democracy. As young people turn to their smartphones and social media platforms for the latest news and updates, they need to have and use the digital tools to fact check online reports and identify false and misleading information.

As we look for strategies to combat disinformation now and in the future, I appreciate once again your robust participation in this important conversation and conference, thank NDI for hosting it.

I look forward to hearing about the outcomes of this important forum and thank NDI again for hosting it.