Veni Markovski, Source: Romeo Cholakov

Veni Markovski: It's about time the media stopped inviting “experts” who spread false info

Veni Markovski: It's about time the media stopped inviting “experts” who spread false info

Veni Markovski’s take on dealing with disinformation in the European Union's poorest country – Bulgaria

Veni Markovski is one of the pioneers of the Internet in Bulgaria. In 1993, he became the co-founder of, the first internet service provider in the city of Sofia. In 1995 he co-founded the Bulgarian Internet Society, a non-profit, on which he still serves as Chairman of the Board. 

Mr Markovski, you are a key part of the history of the internet spread in Bulgaria. When did you start being interested in fake news? What interested you in this field?

I cannot give you an exact date, but in the history of Bulgaria’s internet, disinformation has existed more or less since the first appearance of information-sharing systems, more than three decades ago. Actually, it is more accurate to use the term false information, as not every instance is a piece of news.

Are there any correlations between the methods of spreading false information, recurrent themes and the more vulnerable audiences?

I personally haven’t noticed any correlations, but I have noticed that the same talking points usually connect with certain minorities, regardless of whether they are in Bulgaria, Russia or the USA (All regions of which I have personal experience and am versed with through specialised literature). Hate speech is inexorably linked with these talking points.

What's the state of disinformation in a comparison between the United States, Western Europe and Bulgaria, in particular?

When considering its definition (Disinformation "includes all forms of false, inaccurate, or misleading information designed, presented and promoted to intentionally cause public harm or for profit" – High-Level Expert Group on fake news and online disinformation to the European Commission, 2018) there are two differences: one is in the scope and consequences and the second – the effects on the citizens.

We can see that COVID-19 disinformation in Bulgaria had a much greater effect compared to the other two regions. The effect on citizens – in the most literal sense of the word – was fatal. The media also needs to take responsibility for spreading false information.

What do you mean by taking responsibility?

When a media outlet invites guests who have spread false information and continue to do so, that outlet becomes an accomplice. It is about time the media stopped inviting “experts” to contribute their opinions which only increase the spread of disinformation – not only about COVID-19, but also about the Russian war against Ukraine, for instance.

The Bulgarian media (including public broadcasters like BNT TV and BNR Radio) cannot continue inviting people who have proven that they are dubious ‘experts’, and bad followers of Vanga (editor’s note: popular Bulgarian fortune-teller) because their predictions never come true.

Last month, the EU Commission published Guidelines for teachers and educators on tackling disinformation and promoting digital literacy through education and training. How is the document received by its target audience?

I hope that soon we will hear specific commitments on the part of educational institutions in the EU’s Member States. It is a well-known fact that all innovations in the educational systems, even those proposed with the best intentions, take a long time to implement. But, I hope that this time institutions act quicker because we are talking about a very critical issue.

The guide is focused on building tools for young people to fight false information, while they are still part of the educational system. How could these tools reach other social groups that have a very ‘low immunity’ to internet disinformation?

One possible solution would be if other sectors start adopting the guidelines, with an appropriate adaption of course. But I fear that the issues in Bulgaria are the same as the ones we had with the COVID-19 vaccine: People do not believe that there is a problem with information at all and they blend that with a lack of knowledge on how to deal with the issue.

There is a local principle of "Who are you to tell me?!" at play. This phenomenon has reached tragic proportions because the experts sharing factual information aren't as prominent in the media. 

This wouldn’t be so much of an issue if the media itself was not saturated by people sharing disinformation. The result is that citizens do not have access to verified information, yet they do have access to copious amounts of false information.

Are we fighting a losing battle with fake news when it's so easy to lie and it takes so much to prove the truth?

It is a losing battle if we don’t act – both as a society and as individuals – and leave disinformation to parade unimpeded through public space. On the other hand – if we do fight, we will have success. If we don’t do anything, then we have given up.

What do you mean by fighting disinformation as an individual? Isn’t it enough to have a small team of dedicated fact-checkers or do we need more systematic reforms?

All of us, users of social media, can and must take personal responsibility to fight against disinformation. When we see something that is not true, we mustn’t pass it by, we need to debunk it, signal it on social media channels, and demand they take action. We can also warn our friends so that they don’t become victims of false information.

To what degree can initiatives like Read Twice, which aim to build capacities among media professionals with expertise from the EU, help to better the media landscape in Bulgaria?

It is very important that initiatives like Read Twice exist and for them to be successful. The more – the better. And they need to not be short-term (a year or two) but long-term.

The fight against false information and fake news is thankless work and every initiative counts. From our Bulgarian experience, we can really see that we need more skills from abroad, as apparently our society has lost the skills to look at information critically and falls easy prey.

It is paramount that journalists, reporters and hosts could not only spot false information but also oppose their guests and prevent the broadcasting of lies.

And of course, the media should enforce basic journalistic norms in their work, by taking action against people who willingly or not are repeaters of false information and disinformation.

The interview was originally given in Bulgarian. It has been translated, shortened and formatted by TheMayor.EU.

This article is part of Read Twice – an EU-funded project, coordinated by Euro Advance Association that targets young people and aims to counter disinformation and fake news by enhancing their skills to assess critically information, identify vicious and harmful media content and distinguish between facts and opinions, thus improving their media literacy competences.

The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of its author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the European Union.



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