Monday, December 3, 2018

"A Crisis of Conscience in Fake News" article in the Atlantic - the role of teens in Veles in the 2016 presidential election

A new article in the Atlantic about the role of teens in Veles, Macedonia in the 2016 presidential election. Please click on this link so that you can see the video.

 A Crisis of Conscience in Fake News

Nov 30, 2018 |
Video by Kate Stonehill

Once upon a time, an economically depressed and largely forgotten town in the Balkans experienced a digital gold rush. The average monthly salary in Veles, Macedonia, had been $371; now young denizens were earning up to $16,000.

The year was 2016, and the gold was fake news.

The idea that fake news most likely helped Donald Trump get elected is, well, old news. An Ohio University study published in April suggested that fake news dissuaded 4 percent of President Barack Obama's 2012 supporters from voting for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. But the extent to which a network of Macedonian teens remotely influenced the U.S. presidential election is still being uncovered.

“Hey, Macedonian teenagers,” yelled Stephen Colbert in a segment from The Late Show that aired on November 16, 2016. “Why can't you just do normal teenager stuff? Knock it off!”

One teenager did knock it off, but only after he learned of the havoc his and his peers’ actions had wreaked on a democracy thousands of miles away. The filmmaker Kate Stonehill calls him “Sashko,” though that’s not his real name. Stonehill tells his story in her short documentary, Fake News Fairytale, which premieres on The Atlantic today.

The film shows the far-reaching consequences of Sashko’s ambition to make a quick buck. Although Sashko is played by an actor in the film to protect his identity, he’s a real person with a real story—and a real conscience.

“I think there’s a common misconception that people who write fake news must have a nefarious desire to influence politics one way or another,” Stonehill told The Atlantic. “I’m sure some of them undoubtedly do, but I met many people in Macedonia, including Sashko, who were writing fake news simply because they can make some money.”

The film is crafted like a fairy tale, a format Stonehill said allowed her “to explore some of the more interesting questions around fake-ness and lies in storytelling. Fairy tales are fake stories that capture our imagination and draw us in, regardless of their truth.”

Stonehill and her cinematographer, Ronnie McQuillan, shot much of the film with a VHS camera “as a playful way of questioning what makes footage appear authentic to an audience,” she said. “From the very beginning, I wanted there to be some uncertainty around the authorship of the film, in the same way that there is with fake news. Who is telling the story, and how believable is it?”

The film also features imagery of actors wearing paper-cutout faces depicting the likes of Trump, Obama, and Clinton. Even though Stonehill shot in Macedonia, she wanted to remind the viewer that the story ultimately impacts the United States. “The masks also completely flatten the politicians into two-dimensional parodies of themselves,” she added, “which is exactly what fake news does.”

While making Fake News Fairytale, Stonehill came across a particularly resonant quote: “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.”

“In the true spirit of fake news, this quote has been misattributed to lots of different authors over time,” Stonehill said. “I have no idea who the originator of the quote is, but I think it’s a very true statement and very indicative of what we’re seeing with fake news.”

Stonehill believes the first step to combatting the seductive proliferation of falsehoods is opening up an honest, critical discussion about technology, speech, and politics in order to better understand the fake-news phenomenon. “How, when, and why did the truth lose its currency?” she asked. “Who is profiting when the truth doesn’t matter? In my opinion, we’re only just beginning to unpack the answers to these questions.”

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to

Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of short films curated by The Atlantic

Monday, September 24, 2018

Welcoming the Mayor of Klos, Albania -- the Honorable Basir Cupa - to Pinellas County, FL -- Dinner at Jessi's Restaraunt -- Jason Sulisufay


Recently a colleague from SEEU (South East European University - -- Blerton Zejneli -- connected me with Atlas Corps Fellow Edison Frangu.

Edison Frangu was in the U.S. (Washington, DC) as an Atlas Corps Fellow, serving with OpenGovHub (see

Edison was in Florida with the Mayor of Klos municipality (Albania) and was assisting the Mayor,  the Honorable Basir Cupa, with arranging visits with municipalities in the Tampa Bay region.

After visiting the City Halls of Madeira Beach and Pinellas Park, we enjoyed a delicious dinner at

Jessi's Restaurant

in Pinellas Park.  Owner Jason Sulisufay is a business leader in Pinellas Park and also active in the Albanian diaspora.  The restaurant menu is quite diverse - and features mostly "American" style cuisine. However, I was so happy to sample some Albanian dishes as a part of this sampler (like the qofte/meatballs) and to bring home some cheese pie similar to my daughter's favorite burek.    
 Looking forward to returning with my daughter!
For more about Jessi's Restaraunt, see

Welcoming the Mayor of Klos, Albania, the Honorable Basir Cupa, to Pinellas Park -- meeting with Mayor Sandy Bradbury, Edison Frangu, and Jason Sulisufay

Mayor Bradbury, Mayor Cupa, business leader Jason Sulisufay, and Edison Frangu

Recently a colleague from SEEU (South East European University - -- Blerton Zejneli -- connected me with Atlas Corps Fellow Edison Frangu.

Edison Frangu was in the U.S. (Washington, DC) as an Atlas Corps Fellow, serving with OpenGovHub (see

Edison was in Florida with the Mayor of Klos municipality (Albania) and was assisting the Mayor,  the Honorable Basir Cupa, with arranging visits with municipalities in the Tampa Bay region.

I was honored to welcome Mayor Cupa and Edison to Madeira Beach -- and to help arrange a visit with our City Administrator, the Vice Mayor, and the Fire Department.

After visiting Madeira Beach, we went to City Hall in Pinellas Park for a tour and meeting with the Mayor, the Honorable Sandy Bradbury.   

It was an interesting comparison/contrast between the municipal governments of Madeira Beach and Pinellas Park.  Thanks so much to Mayor Bradbury for taking the time to meet with us.

For more about Pinellas Park, see 

a tour of the City Council Chambers

Mayor Cupa with Mayor Bradbury, in her office

we learned a lot about the history of Pinellas Park, "the heart of Pinellas County"

Welcoming the Mayor of Klos, Albania -- the Honorable Mayor Basir Cupa -- and Atlas Corps Fellow Edison Frangu -- to Madeira Beach, Florida

In the City Commission Chamber with Edison Frangu, Mayor Basir Cupa, and City Manager Jonathan Evans
  Recently a colleague from SEEU (South East European University - -- Blerton Zejneli -- connected me with Atlas Corps Fellow Edison Frangu.

Edison Frangu was in the U.S. (Washington, DC) as an Atlas Corps Fellow, serving with OpenGovHub (see

Edison was in Florida with the Mayor of Klos municipality (Albania) and was assisting the Mayor,  the Honorable Basir Cupa, with arranging visits with municipalities in the Tampa Bay region.

I was honored to welcome Mayor Cupa and Edison to Madeira Beach -- and to help arrange a visit with our City Administrator, the Vice Mayor, and the Fire Department.

For more about the government of the City of Madeira Beach, see

For more about the City of Madeira Beach Fire Department, see

with Vice Mayor Debbie Weinstein

with Vice Mayor Debbie Weinstein

the City Commission Chambers is a circular room with panoramic views -- this is my first time trying to capture a panoramic picture on my phone...not sure I am doing this room justice


such an interesting meeting with City Manager Jonathan Evans -- thanks so much for your time!

reviewing the MadBch budget and items for the City Commission meeting that evening

the room where the technicians work to bring the City Commission meetings to our living rooms via the TV station

 We had such a fantastic tour of the MadBch Fire Station! Thanks to the firefighters who gave us the tour of the station and the trucks, and who told us all about the Fire Dept -- government funding, regulations, intergovernmental relations (relationship/responsibilities of the city, county, and state when it comes to fire safety)

Clover! The fire house dog

the view from outside the City Commission chambers

"The Multiplier Effect" -- poster presentation about the many projects resulting from my Fulbright to Macedonia -- Fulbright Welcome Reception 2018 USF World 2018


I enjoyed the Annual Fulbright Welcome Reception hosted by the Fulbright Association Mid-Florida Chapter and USF World for Fulbrighters along the I-4 Corridor.

It is always a pleasure to join in welcoming Fulbrighters from around the world (this year, I met scholars from Nicaragua, Indonesia, Peru, New Zealand, Morocco, Ecuador, Mexico, Russia...) as well as to welcome back US Scholars who were away on Fulbright last year (this year, from Canada, Bulgaria, Palestine, Poland, Malaysia...)

I appreciate the poster presentations that are a part of the reception.  This year, I presented a poster

The Multiplier Effect: How My Fulbright to Macedonia Inspired Many New Projects

Honestly, it was hard to capture all of the programs and activities that grew out of my Fulbright to Macedonia last year, but I included highlights:

--Joint Comparative Legal Research Project, linking my USFSP Constitutional Law class with Amb. Prof. Dr. Blerim Reka's (and my former) Constitutional Law students at SEEU and the presentations at the USFSP Research Conference/US Embassy's American Corner in Skopje

--welcoming Prof. Karolina Ristova-Aasterud of UKIM to USFSP for Women's HERStory Month keynote address and meetings with my Women and the Law students (and my students' poster presentations at the event)

--welcoming Amb. Prof. Dr. Blerim Reka of SEEU to USFSP, for a public lecture, visit with my Constitutional Law class, and meetings with USFSP leadership

--signing Memorandum of Understanding between USFSP and SEEU (April 2018)

--hosting the delegation of Macedonian political leaders for ACYPL and the US Embassy in Skopje (December 2017)

--elected to serve on the SEEU Board of Trustees (June 2018)

--presenting at the Pre-Departure Orientation for outbound Fulbrighters, Washington, DC (July 2018) and on the Pre-Departure call for the outbound delegates for the first exchange to Macedonia for ACYPL (August 2018)

--welcoming Macedonians to Tampa Bay, journalist Arta Tahiri (Edward R. Murrow Program, IVLP, May 2018) and Judge Olja Krstikjeska (IVLP, World Partnerships, April 2018)

--participated in meetings at the US Department of State, Washington, DC as part of Macedonian Assistance Review (November 2017)

--my presentations during International Education Week at USFSP about my Fulbright to Macedonia, "Rule of Law and Civil Society" and during International Women's Day Luncheon at the Athena Society ("Challenges and Opportunities Facing Women in Moldova and Macedonia"

I could go on and on and on with the ripple effect of my Fulbright to Macedonia (Spring 2017) ... this is only the sample that I could squeeze onto this tri-fold display board!  (And, of course, many projects still in the work....including return research trip later this Fall)

sharing my poster with the President of the Mid-Florida Chapter of the Fulbright Association, Prof. Darlene DeMarie

This year, it was a special treat to see my former student Lauren Shumate present her poster about her Fulbright ETA in Serbia:


Lauren was a student in my Moldova Study Abroad course.  And she brought this publication from ULIM that includes an article drafted by her during the course (thanks again to Prof. Larisa Patlis and our colleagues at ULIM!)

I also had the pleasure of serving on Lauren's MA Thesis Committee at USF. She recently had a law review article published that utilized some of her thesis research (regarding justice sector reform)

What is the Mid-Florida Chapter of the Fulbright Association?


 The Keynote Speaker:
Darlene DeMarie kicking off the event

Asst Vice President Kiki Caruson introduces the Keynote Speaker
Keynote Speaker (and Mid-Florida Chapter of the Fulbright Association Board Member), Fulbrighter from New Zealand working on her Ph.D. at USF -- Imogene Browne -- told us about her recent two-month research trip to Antarctica.  The expedition was able to drill into the arctic, retrieving sediment cores and evaluating them in order to understand Antarctic ice sheet history.

She asks -- why should we care about this ice sheet research? Imogene offered many reasons, but on this PPT slide you can see that among the top 30 cities that will be affected by sea level rise, 17 are in Florida -- including St Pete and Tampa!

so interesting to see the ship and to learn more about the international community of scientists who took part in this expedition. Go Bulls!

Friday, September 14, 2018

South East European University -- SEEU -- Inauguration of new Rector -- Acad. Prof. Dr. Abdylmenaf Bexheti

I was disappointed that I could not be present in person at SEEU for the Inauguration of the new Rector, Rector Abdylmenaf Bexheti

However, thanks to technology (and the a/v staff at SEEU!), I was able to watch the ceremony from Madeira Beach, Florida USA.  The event was live-streamed on the SEEU website:

It was an august ceremony that celebrated the university and its vision for the future.

My very best wishes for the new Rector and for the continued success of SEEU!

I am looking forward to congratulating Rector Bexheti in person when I return in November for the next Board of Trustees meeting. 

Here are some photos of the ceremony, as seen in the USA from my laptop:

Gaudeamus Igitur!  (I first learned this song with my Latin class and performed at my Lower School "graduation" when I was finishing 6th grade)  Vivat academia! Vivant professores!

Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Prof. Dennis Farrington

Rector Abdylmenaf Bexheti

Rector Abdylmenaf Bexheti

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev

Rector Bexheti

And here are the much better professional photos, taken by SEEU and posted in a facebook album:

facebook photo album - SEEU Inauguration New Rector

And here is an article with more details about the event from the SEEU website:

The Inauguration of Acad. Prof. Dr. Abdylmenaf Bexheti as the Third Rector of SEEU

On Wednesday, September 12, the inauguration ceremony of the new Rector Acad. Prof. Dr. Abdylmenaf Bexheti was held.
The ceremony was attended by the Prime-Minister of Macedonia, Zoran Zaev; the Minister of Education and Science, Arbër Ademi; the Mayor of Tetovo, Teuta Arifi; the Italian Ambassador, H.E. Karlo Romeo; OSCE representatives; USAID representatives; representatives of the German Embassy; M.P.s; representatives of the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts; Rectors of all universities in Macedonia; the Rector of the University of Prishtina; the Rectors of the Universities of Peja and Mitrovica; representatives of the business community; students, staff and many other guests.
In this ceremony the President of the University Board, Dennis Farrington, symbolically gave the University's insignia and key to Acad. Prof. Dr. Bexheti, thereby officially inaugurating him as the Rector of South East European University.

Prime Minister Zaev said, “It is a great pleasure to be present at the inauguration ceremony the new Rector of one of the most renowned Universities not only in Macedonia, the region, and South East Europe, but also in Europe. It is a great pleasure for me to be present in this solemn act, to wish to the Rector a successful mandate, to wish to preserve and advance the missions for which the University was established. Thus: to design educational and scientific activities here in Macedonia, by following the example of multi-ethnicity that will shine in the whole region. We know that SEEU is a creator of society, which we over the years strive to build. Believe me, as a person and as politicians I have learned a lot from the mission and purpose of the existence of this University. I believe that with the new Rector, the Rector’s Council, professors and students, you will continue to advance this mission."

Prime Minister Zaev continued, "For Macedonia is very important and very necessary that from the University to come out professionals. Young generations, to whom we leave Macedonia in its inheritance, are an invaluable asset, which comes from our Universities. I want the University to continue and intensify cooperation with other universities, not only in the country, but also with international ones, to bring more qualitative knowledge here. I am convinced that in the period to come, the University--led by a renowned and respected academician, such as Prof. Bexheti--means only progress for quality assurance. I want you to count on the support from your government, from the Government of Macedonia. Of course, we participate with symbolic financial means, but my message and that of the Minister of Education is that if you continue to give us more qualitative students, we will increase our financial support. SEEU has shined in all aspects, by producing excellent staff, who are today excellent officials in Macedonia both in the public and private sector.”
Rector Acad. Prof. Dr. Abdylmenaf Bexheti thanked all those who helped and contributed to the establishment and development of the University.

“I would like to thank the creators and founders of the University, Mr. Arbër Xhaferi and Max Van der Stoel, whose contributions we must regretfully recognize post-mortem. I want to thank the Founding Rector of the University, Acad. Abazi, and I am very happy that he is among us, still so active with his wise advice."

Rector Bexheti continued, "I would like to thank the international institutions--from the USA, the EU, non-EU European states, the Soros Foundation, the DAAD Program--for all their support since the establishment of the Institution up to this day. Without them this project would not exist. At the same time, I would like to thank the Government of that time and all the other governments up to the present, for the political will in the establishment and the continuous support that they are giving to us. Great thanks go to the Government of the Republic of Macedonia for their sincere support both institutionally and materially. The first one for the preservation of the specific status of organization and functioning and the second for the material support that continues and we hope to adapt to the trend of recognizing the public interest we create in the society as a whole.”, said Rector Bexheti.
For his journey through his academic career, he also thanked his professors from the University of Prishtina, his mentors from the University "St. Cyril and Methodius", his professors from the Faculty of Economics of Tirana, and his immediate family.

Rector Bexheti also presented his vision for the University's journey in the future, pointing out that the highest priority focus remains on quality standards in both wings - teaching and research.
“Liberal education as a group of intellectual instruments along with vocational training should create a sense of greater social responsibility, empathy and understanding to better the lives of people. With these goals that create value and public interest, we can justify the international and local community's investments at the same time,” said Rector Acad. Prof. Dr. Abdylmenaf Bexheti.
“Ladies and gentlemen, universities are unique institutions. If you haven’t worked in one you can have no concept of the challenges faced worldwide by demographic changes and the effects of information technology. They are places of transformation, places where lives are changed, places where knowledge is made and remade. And places where the future is forged. Universities are also places that are constantly being reshaped,” said the president of the University Board, Prof. Dr. Denis Farrington.

The former Rector of SEEU, Prof. Dr. Zamir Dika, reviewed his experience during the eight years he has led this institution.

“For eight consecutive years, as Rector of South East European University, thanks to the cooperation with each of you - without exception, starting from the University Board, co-managers in the Rectorate, the management team of Deans and pro-deans, heads of administration…thanks to every employee at any level and place of work. I humbly declare in public before you that you have given to me the most valuable experience in my life and you have offered me the happiest moments that a person can have in a work environment. For this, I will be eternally thankful,” said Prof. Dika.
The Rector of the University of Tetova, Prof. Dr. Vullnet Ameti, as a sign of respect donated to the Rector of SEEU, Acad. Prof. Dr. Abdylmenaf Bexheti a painting symbolizing his wishes for success and fruitful cooperation.