“I was a Macedonian fake news writer”

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Who are the real instigators of these sites? Until recently, fake news websites operated from North Macedonia were widely believed to emerge spontaneously from local teenagers capitalizing on the digital gold rush that emerged from the carnival of the US presidential race from 2016.

More recent evidence, however, suggests that may not be the case. According to Buzzfeed News“Patient Zero” was reportedly Macedonian media lawyer Trajche Arsov, who worked with two high profile American partners, including Paris Wade, a republican candidate who recently ran for Nevada State Assembly. Buzzfeed’s story revealed that Arsov registered the domain of the first American political site in Veles, USAPoliticsToday.com, on September 23, 2015. This may have started the chain reaction in Veles that led to hundreds of sites, including Marco’s. This report contradicts the mainstream narrative that the eruption of fake news and propaganda sites operating out of town was solely the work of teenagers looking to cash in on Trump’s hysteria. Although this became true in the end, the phenomenon in Veles did not start that way.

Tamara’s story doesn’t shed much light on the issue of outside support; however, it challenges the narrative that all of the young people working for these prolific websites were doing so for a huge paycheck. If his case is anything to go on, the young people who wrote the content for these sites only did so for a small fraction of the profits.

As I said goodbye to Tamara and drove through the night on the long drive home through neighboring Kosovo, Albania and Bosnia to North Macedonia, I was struck by a bitter irony. Here is a region, the Balkans, which, within living memory, has been shaped and marked by the divisions between its peoples. The sad truth is that now it has also become a hotbed for websites that fuel discord and polarization elsewhere – this time, thousands of miles away in the United States.

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