Turning anger and poverty into a commodity

A special "genre" of fake news is emerging in Bosnia, where online portals and social media pages capitalize on people's discontent with social inequality, poor living standard and widespread corruption.

Tijana Cvjeticanin
Tijana Cvjeticanin Istinomjer, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Source: Istinomjer
Turning anger and poverty into a commodity - NewsMavens
Woman Placing Price Indicators on Crates of Produce, Flickr.

Why this story matters:

In BiH, real journalists, those who investigate and report on actual injustices and wrongdoings, are often faced with threats and violence. But there are those who opt for an easier approach, one that requires no skill and does not carry any risk.

The recipe is simple -- find an image that will trigger an emotional response, then say it happened in Bosnia and publish it with a passionate call for justice. Then sit back and collect the clicks and the revenue they bring.

In a recent example, a picture of a policeman and an elderly woman selling vegetables on a cardboard box was published with this caption:

"Is this fair? Share so that everyone can see!

Police in action once again, but not doing what they should be doing.

THEY'RE TAKING THE VEGETABLES FROM THIS OLD LADY'S GARDEN, WHICH SHE SELLS TO FEED HERSELF!".

As expected, thousands rushed in to criticize the police. "Typical for our system", a Facebook user writes.

But the photograph wasn't taken in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the actual story has nothing to do with the local police or politicians. 

This type of predatory "journalism" uses falsehoods to stir up the real and justified political discontent that people feel. While appearing to tackle social issues, they actually trivialize them and, cynically, turn injustice into a commodity.

Details from the story:

  • The picture used in these articles and social media posts was taken in Albania two years ago.
  • It shows a local policeman giving a fine to a woman who was selling vegetables without a permit in front of a residential building. 
  • Unlike its fake derivatives, the original article was a real piece of news and lead to real life results.
  • The woman was reported by the tenants of the building and the police responded to their call.
  • Although selling food in the street without a permit is illegal, the public backlash prompted the mayor of Tirana to reimburse the woman for the cost of the fine.
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