As politics hit the internet, many say it is inevitable, but others question the information.
By Aleksandar Pavlevski for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 06/02/13
Most political parties in the region have a Facebook page. [AFP]
Although traditional media are still important in the political arena, the internet is becoming more influential as a medium in the region, especially for the young population.
The political emergence on the internet was strong in Croatia's 2011 elections. In addition to a personal web site, each party had a Facebook profile, a Twitter profile and a YouTube channel.
Parties also opened special money transfer accounts for financial donations, which in turn improved the transparency of campaign financing.
"The advantage of social media is that it is a matter of a channel that can be entirely monitored and managed just as you wish. The elections cannot be won only through social networks, but you cannot win the elections without them," Krunoslav Vidik, a counselor for communications in the Croatian agency Strategic PR counseling, told SETimes.
Experts said that the younger generation is the most affected, however, it is also the one that least participates in politics.
"The contents are placed with a dose of sensation, precisely to attract their attention," Darko Buldioski, internet consultant at New Media Marketing in Skopje, said.
"Internet information is what is expected. This is only the beginning," Srgan Stojik, a 27-year-old resident of Vranje, Serbia, told SETimes.
A more serious attempt at an internet campaign was recently made by Macedonian President Georgi Ivanov, who has a blog, Facebook profile, webpage and YouTube channel where videos from his campaign were transmitted.
The first high-profile politician to communicate with voters in Macedonia through the web was SDSM leader Branko Crvenkovski through a virtual interview. VMRO-DPMNE leader Nikola Gruevski followed through tweeting and posting on Facebook.
"Now SDSM and VMRO-DPMNE are all over the internet. They have video channels, they broadcast meetings live, write comments, open internet-battles. Everyone publishes and watches whatever they which. Free choice is most important, and the discretion of citizens is guaranteed when it comes to comments and statements on the internet for and against some political option," Milka Olevska, a sociologist from Skopje, told SETimes.
"As times go by, the assets of the political struggle will become different. In the past, messages were written through graffiti, now people use twitter, Facebook and other social networks. It is a debate that can hardly be controlled," Petar Arsovski, the former director of public relations agency Image PR, told SETimes.
Viktor Dano, editor of the portal it.com.mk, said that internet portals have a more limited impact than newspapers and televisions.
"Televisions and newspapers that covertly support certain political side are more dangerous for citizens than internet media. They are passive media, the user sits and listens to them with no interaction or selection of information being served. The internet allows selection, the possibility to share certain news in a social network, or to criticise or praise that news," he said.
Nevertheless, the credibility of information published on internet portals is often subject of suspicion.
"These media dictate an unbearable pace, thus filling their space with low-quality, poor news. This is what makes subordinate those who want to promote a more serious approach to informing. Now the number of visits is the only measure for successfulness, at the expense of quality and reliability of information," Buldioski said.