The Book of Veles (2nd edition) by Jonas Bendiksen
A photographer set out to capture the misinformation producers in a small town in Macedonia. He wound up revealing uncomfortable truths about his own profession.
Veles is a provincial North Macedonian town which placed itself on the world map in 2016 as an epicenter for fake news production. The area has lost much of its economic base in recent decades —an enormous steel smelter, a porcelain factory and other industry lie abandoned.
During the 2016 US Presidential election, tech-savvy local youth created hundreds of clickbait websites posing as American political news portals, intending to earn quick money from viewer ad clicks. As the Veles fake news articles were spread to millions of people via Facebook and Twitter algorithms, many of these “news hackers” made substantial sums, and the sites may very well have contributed to the election of Donald Trump as President of the USA.
The story of Veles’ fake news producers is an example of how rogue information and “alternative truths” are a constantly growing force, and one that is not easily defeated.
I travelled to Veles to explore this unlikely hub of misinformation.
The photographs of contemporary Veles are intertwined with excerpts and facsimiles from a 1919 archaeological discovery also called ‘the Book of Veles’ — a cryptic collection of 40 ‘ancient’ wooden boards discovered in Russia by an army officer, written in a proto-Slavic language. It was claimed to be a history of the Slavic people and the god Veles himself—the pre-Christian Slavic god mischief, chaos and deception. While popular among Slavic nationalists, the text is debunked as a forgery by most scientists.
In Book of Veles these two different ‘Veles’ stories interweave each other , representing historical and current efforts at producing disinformation and chaos.