Mrs. Amina Šurković is an activist with the Initiative Against Religious and Racial Intolerance (PRVI Initiative), established in 2017 with an aim to protect the freedom of religion and belief in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Western Balkans. The PRVI Initiative deals with systemic approach in tackling the violations of the freedom of religion by reporting the cases of discrimination, building capacities of local NGOs and informal groups, and working with authorities on how to prevent hate speech, violence, and prejudice against the minority religious groups. PRVI Initiative regularly contributes to the OSCE Hate Crime Report.
“I would first like to thank you for hosting this very important event, and I feel very honored to be able to provide my perspective on these challenges and listen to other invited experts from other organizations and countries. Since it is a phenomenon that affects almost all aspects of human rights, then it can be viewed from the angles of various scientific disciplines.”, said Shurkovic on a beginning of her address on the Regional Conference “Attacks on democracy and human rights”, held on 28 july, 2021 in Skopje.
Shurkovic referred to hybrid attacks from a criminological point of view, in the context of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“I was thinking about what to focus on today, so I decided to go back to my background criminology and try to explain hybrid attacks and disinformation from our criminological point of view, along with prevention of course, in the context of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In December as you know, in 2018, the European Union, adopted an action plan against disinformation, recognizing it as a serious threat to democratic processes, however, such activities were absent in Western Balkans, where hybrid attacks were not recognized by government actors, academia, or media professionals in the region. In the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the awareness of this issue is even less present than in neighboring countries. Hybrid threats are extremely difficult to monitor, to anticipate, and to respond to. The actual state of hybrid attacks is not covered by any statistics. In criminology we have this the crime triangle which identifies three factors that create a criminal offence. I will try to use the same model to explain hybrid attacks in the context of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
So, the first factor is intention, the individual or the group must have the ability and knowledge. Here, it is very important to emphasize the difference between lies and factual errors. A person may make a factually incorrect statement believing it to be true. It is the intention to deceive that separates these two categories and it is a key element of political misinformation.”, pointed out Shurkovic.
“The second factor that criminologists are very interested in are the attackers. The people or groups who are behind the spreading of disinformation and hybrid attacks. It is impossible to create one profile that suits all of them but some common motives are entertainment, profit, political of course motives, anger, revenge, and other emotional needs. I will mention here because it can lead us to founder of academic discipline of cyber criminology K. Jaishankar who developed the space transition theory of cyber crimes which tries to explain why people behave so differently when move to cyber space. One of the postulates of this theory which is very important to our context is flexibility of identity, anonymity, and lack of distraction factors in cyber space. Individuals sometimes commit acts in groups that they never would do individually, which is a part of that mass mentality. Examples are politically motivated cyber-criminals who are members of extremist and radical groups and use the internet to spread propaganda, attack websites or their political enemies.
Shurkovic stressed that when it comes to hybrid attacks, it is very difficult to trace the profile of attackers based on the motives only.
“Of great interest to criminologists is actually the way of committing the offense. When it comes to hybrid attacks, it is very difficult to trace the profile of attackers based on the motives only. The distance between the place where the individuals or groups operate and the target is irrelevant and it is meaningless in the context of cyber space where distance does not exist. One of the key findings of this research conducted in 2018 and 2019 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, based on the resulting material of the Bosnian Fact Checking Platform was actually that anonymity. Anonymous portals in Bosnia and Herzegovina are the type of media that appears as the main source and transmitted of misinformation in the online space. In most cases their primary motive for producing such content is the commercial profit. On the other hand, the findings indicate that some of these portals are established by political actors as a means of attacking political opponents by placing inaccurate information and accusation against them. Anonymity is used in these cases as a way to avoid public criticism and responsibility for such action. And I will end with the third factor of this criminal triangle which is opportunity”, said Shurkovic.
She pointed that the goal of prevention strategy from the criminological point of view here is to make it more difficult for potential offenders to access a target, which means increase the risk of being caught.
“Opportunity for the act to be committed, which means misinformation to be transmitted. The goal of prevention strategy from the criminological point of view here is to make it more difficult for potential offenders to access a target, which means increase the risk of being caught. Unlike broadcasters in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the online media have no legal or regulatory obligation to publish registration, to publish contact or ownership information. Most of online platforms are not under any kind of supervision. In such circumstances there are no obstacles to the existence of anonymous platforms that use misinformation in the service of the goal of a political party while at the same time protecting the person who manage them from any responsibility. So we have to increase the offender’s effort to commit a crime. I mean to transfer the missing information, reduce the gain that individuals and groups are expecting after transmitting misinformation. As Mr. Nenad said, this can only be achieved by increased critical thinking skills of population and media literacy, because in Bosnia there is still widespread perception among citizens that cyber crime, hybrid attacks, disinformation are not such a dangerous phenomenon. Misinformation is poorly, or not at all, recognized as a possible hybrid threat, so there is almost no public about possible responses to such threats. So, low awareness of cyber-security and media literacy makes population more vulnerable to crime and a suitable audience for manipulation.”, pointed Shurkovic.
Camera: Dehran Muratov
Video editing: Arian Mehmeti