Social media gurus in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Author: Armin Tufo
The main issue with two public personalities in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the veil of morality under which they operate, assuming a moral high ground based on their titles of a doctor and a professor, seemingly helping people make informed decisions. Of course, their rhetoric and preachings go directly against the clearly adopted public health measures, whilst sowing seeds of doubt and intolerance.
With about 60% of the world’s population having access to the World Wide Web, totalling around 4.66 billion active users, it’s safe to say that the Internet has become our main gathering point; a melting pot of billions of people from all parts of the globe interacting with each other on a day to day basis. This global network has also been recognized as a rapidly growing marketplace, supplying its eager consumers with products and services one could only dream of before the advent of the Internet. We also live in a time and place where people we like to call ‘influencers’ make thousands of dollars annually by marketing and selling products to their audiences.
Now, one thing is to capitalize off of your loyal audience which you have acquired one some of the social media platforms - may it be Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, etc. - but the question is where does the responsibility and accountability provision of these people fall, if there is one at all? What happens when previously anonymous people acquire sizeable fame and decide to use it to advance personal at the expense of public interest, using their platforms to spread malinformation, sow antagonism, incite hatred, and invite their followers to defy public health orders, e.g., wearing masks, all while making profit in the meantime?
Case number 1 – a doctor
The COVID-19 pandemic is exactly an instance where such people assume one of the primary roles in influencing others, which hasn’t gone without the attention of fact-checking media in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Although true that such media outlets don’t command over wider masses, as it’s always the sensational and portals using clickbait that have large followings, nevertheless, sites such as Raskrinkavanje.ba have been astute in denouncing these gurus and their potential threat to the society. It’s here that we meet a public figure “Dr. Alen Azarić” with a following of over 100.000 people on his Facebook page who repeatedly advertised a whole range of mixtures and concoctions, vouching for their health benefits and protection against all bacteria and viruses.
This is not only problematic in terms of promoting unverified and homemade ‘medicine’ but it adds another layer to the nefariousness by claiming to have a ‘cure’ against the main disease at the moment - COVID-19. Previously making headlines as an antivaxer, Azarić shared a fake video of a woman allegedly suffering from side effects of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, stating he has always been and will remain an antivaxer. Thankfully, and due to fact-checking media such as Istinomer.rs, the post has been flagged under ‘Missing Context’ by Facebook, claiming there are no connections between the vaccine and the ‘symptoms’ shown in the video.
Furthermore, Azarić has advanced fake information that could harm public health by condemning wearing masks, claiming that they increase the levels of CO2 in the bloodstream and as such should be deemed as “poisonous”, with the ultimate goal of the elites “microchipping” the people into obedience. Perhaps none of this comes as a surprise considering that “Dr Azarić” was already brought to court in Belgrade for claiming to have cured hundreds of cancer patients back in 2018, being accused of quackery. What is to happen with Azarić and his inclination to, not only dangerously misinform people, spread conspiracy theories but also profit from people with poor media literacy skills, whose fears have been heightened during the pandemic, remains to be seen.
Case number 2 – a professor
The second case of a guru comes from “Professor Sanin Musa” who viciously deplored the responsible citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina who used the generous opportunity to get vaccinated in neighbouring Serbia, as BiH is currently struggling to get a hold of vaccines. Musa, a religious figure and a professor of Islamic studies, used his Facebook page to astutely scoff at those who got vaccinated but who are Bosnians, implying that it is shameful to be vaccinated by Serbians who, as he claims, wanted to “exterminate Bosnians 30 years ago.”
Musa didn’t stop at nationalist and wartime propaganda, professing that it is anti-religious to be “afraid of Covid”, and that fear of God should, in all cases, come first. To top it all off, Musa advanced the trap of misleading content, calling the vaccines used in Serbia as “expired” and “poisonous” even though the vaccines were only approaching their expiration date, as reported byKlix.ba. To him, COVID-19 is nothing more than a trick played by the elites, a fallacy, a conspiracy against those with pure minds and hearts. Neither this comes as a surprise as the professor has previously misled himself and others when he was one of the main organizers of a ‘counter protest’ against the Sarajevo Pride Parade in 2019, implying that “tomorrow paedophiles, zoophiles, necrophiliacs, and killers will freely be walking the streets”, equating sexual orientation with such mentioned criminal acts.
The main issue with these two public personalities is the veil of morality under which they operate, assuming a moral high ground based on their titles of a doctor and a professor, seemingly helping people make informed decisions. Of course, their rhetoric and preachings go directly against the clearly adopted public health measures, whilst sowing seeds of doubt and intolerance. They aren’t directly accountable or responsible for their words, abusing their freedom of speech to spew hate and malinformation. This, in light of lower media literacy rates among BiH citizens, illustrates the dangers of social media platforms where content reaches thousands in minutes, all the while fact-checking organizations don’t have the capacity to respond and rate every post shared, leaving the burden on the backs of John and Jane Doe.