Digital rights in the Western Balkans

BIRN’s latest annual report shows how political tensions, culture wars and Russian propaganda have intensified digital human rights abuses in the Balkans. The Western Balkans has faced ongoing political tensions and “culture wars” that have migrated from the physical world to the digital space, leading to human rights violations in digital environments.

BIRN’s latest annual report, “Distorting the Truth: Hate Speech and Disinformation Fuel Digital Rights Abuses in the Balkans,” covers digital rights in eight countries of the region, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, plus Hungary. From September 1, 2021, to August 31, 2022, BIRN documented 782 digital rights violations. The breakdown of these cases is: Bosnia and Herzegovina (77 cases), Croatia (70), Hungary (146), Kosovo (89), North Macedonia (83), Montenegro (65), Romania (128) and Serbia (124) recorded by the SHARE Foundation.

The report highlights that human rights violations in fragile democracies differ in type, nature, scope, and target, which, combined with rapidly changing technology, has led to violations of human rights in digital environments. Journalists, public officials, human rights activists and the public face different attacks online, including smear campaigns, trolling, and hate speech. Identifying key trends in digital rights violations, the report warns against the spread of digital rights violations in the region. More robust accountability measures are needed to address these issues, and promoting the responsible exercise of freedom of speech in both online and offline domains is crucial.

BIRN’s goal is to equip policymakers, civil society organizations and citizens with the tools needed to safeguard digital rights now and in the future. The report presents recommendations for policymakers, regional regulators, media and technology entities and individuals, aimed at promoting and protecting digital rights in online media and journalism, including freedom of expression, access to information, and privacy.

BIRN’s recommendations include making all types of online aggression illegal, providing specific training and resources to law enforcement authorities and prosecutors, taking interim measures to combat hate speech, prioritising the development and implementation of robust cybersecurity measures, collaborating with local civil society players on content moderation and freedom of speech, and improving data collection to combat hate speech and hate crime. By following these recommendations, policymakers and regulators can help ensure that digital platforms and technologies respect users’ rights and freedoms, contributing to a healthier, more vibrant digital public sphere where diverse voices can be heard and informed public debate can flourish.

The full report can be found here:

Reference from the BIRN website