Countering disinformation in North Macedonia: Akreditator's online fight

Author: Kristina Dimitrova

The browser extension Akreditator was created by Gorjan Jovanovski from North Macedonia with the idea to reduce the flow of disinformation and to influence national media to be more ethical in their reporting. This is what he had to say about how the public and society in general can use and benefit from it for free.

What is Akreditator and how does it work?

Jovanovski: Akreditator is a browser extension available for download for desktop browsers only, because unfortunately mobile browsers still do not have that extensibility option. Basically, what it does is - it takes data from official, either governmental or private registries that have some sort of ethical code for media with which they agree to uphold certain standards of ethical media reporting, meaning that they would not spin a story or take sides, but would use as much as true facts as possible. Thus, it helps readers who have this extension be aware if the media they are looking at is part of these registries. 

 

That in return should give them a little more confidence in the fact that the article they are reading from a certain media outlet has a little bit more legitimacy than articles from those media which are not part of the registries. Of course, it’s not a 100% accurate when it comes to the ethical behavior because also the media which are part of these registries can make and have made offenses before. 

 

Therefore, Akreditator also allows the public to report an article and/or website to the registry which as a result could be potentially taken down. That being said, it allows people to be part of the process of moderating media content. And in order to use the extension, one can download it for free from the extension store for the browser of one’s choice - Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox or Microsoft Edge.

 

Online revolution from North Macedonia

Currently it is configured for the Macedonian market only, thus when reading a news outlet which is part of the registries in the country, the icon of the extension would turn green with a checkmark on it which indicates that it’s more trustworthy. And if you click on the green icon it will give you more information about what registry that particular media is part of, as well as about the website of the registry, and most importantly the rules of the registries and a button to report media if you believe it is breaking those rules. If you are looking at a website that is not part of these registries then the icon would turn grey and state that this media outlet cannot be found in any of the registries. This by itself doesn’t mean it’s a ‘bad’ media, but just that they didn’t take action to join any of the registries, so we are not sure about the quality of the contents they’re producing. 

Since Akreditator allows the public to report fake news or any unethical behavior of media to the appropriate registry, do you have any insights into the reports and their outcomes? 

Jovanovski: The reports have been published by the official registry, but in scanned PDF files which makes it hard to automatically grab information from them and know what’s going on. And here we are talking about reports that the registry has accepted and acted upon by filing some sort of grievance against media. Given those reports we can have an idea of what’s going on, but we are currently in a discussion with them to start publishing the reports in a computer accessible format, so that we can have better access to them. Basically, the idea with Akreditator was not only to indicate those media which are trustworthy, but also to be able to identify those which are definitely not trustworthy and that’s where I was going with this extension. Unfortunately, this information is inaccessible for now and this is why we need the registry to release more data about those reports that are valid, so we can show them through Akreditator. In that way the users could be aware of the websites which already have earned few red flags, and that by itself will put more pressure on media because they will know that the icon will not only turn green or gray, but will have the option to show a red flag as well. 

 

In a world of fake news spreading online with an ease, especially through social networks, can digital applications such as Akreditator be a low-cost solution to creating a more ethical media world?

Jovanovski: Of course, the beauty of the Internet is that we are globally connected now which means that we can crowdsource any form of information. With another project of mine AirCare, we crowdsource a lot of air quality data by having people installing these low-cost sensors as part of their homes. It’s not only about the big hard-core governmental actions that can make a difference, but also a lot of people can come together and give a better picture of the landscape, thus the same goes for these applications. The more people use these digital tools, the better we can make the landscape because suddenly you have not only one organisation equal to 5/10 people looking at these articles, but the whole nation can engage and make their work easier by putting a lot more pressure on the media and making sure they behave accordingly. 

Akreditator was created as a national project supported by the Fund for Innovations and Technology Development, but has an open code on GitHub. Why did you decide to make it available to everyone and how can other societies benefit from it? 

Jovanovski: One of the requirements in the call for applications of the Fund for Innovations and Technology Development was to make the application free for use to everyone in the country, but we wanted to take a step further. Since we spent the time and funding creating this digital tool, the idea was to make sure that anybody, a country or organisation, can use this tool by adapting it to their local registries for free. That’s why we decided to create an open-source application and now people from Serbia to Zimbabwe can take this code and adapt it to their local registries and make it work in their own countries. 

That being said, Akreditator can take two shapes. One of them could be a general service with one extension for all the countries, where organisations that do fact checking from each country can plug into this platform and upload their local registries. Another way would be to decentralize it and allow every country to have their own version of it, maybe with their own branding or their own name in order to make it more local. These are the two approaches this extension can take and it’s really up to the countries and the users to decide which approach works best. 

Your startup AirCare has won over 20 awards on a national and international level, including the European Young Innovators award for 2020. But, besides being a recognized young innovator and entrepreneur, you are also an eco-activist, IT consultant, team management trainer, and a public speaking coach with a TedTalk behind you. What’s your secret in keeping up with all of those passions, because one must wonder where do you find all that inspiration and time in life? 

Jovanovski: On one hand it’s definitely about balancing things in life, and on the other, these are things that I love doing anyway, so I don’t feel like it’s work. I’m good with technology and I’m working with it since the 7th grade, thus this is where all my projects come from. Most often, my advice to people is to find out what they are good at and focus on it, because that’s how you can make the biggest impact. For example, when I work on AirCare I feel like I am on top of the world. It’s my creation and I have been working on it for 6 years now, so if I have to sacrifice a night out towards pushing a big feature that will make an impact with AirCare, I am more than glad to do so. Of course, I don’t sacrifice my social life to do any of this because there is always time for work, spending time online, socializing… There is time for everything, but we just need to manage our time better.