IGF 2020 WS #130 Election in times of disinformation

Time
Friday, 13th November, 2020 (11:20 UTC) - Friday, 13th November, 2020 (12:50 UTC)
Room
Room 1
About this Session
Co-organized by UNESCO and UNDP, this workshop underlines the essential role of the media and electoral stakeholders in ensuring trust during the election process, and the need to tackle disinformation through such means as monitoring and fact checking, journalistic investigation, actions by online platforms including technical responses, and through promoting media and information literacy.
Thematic Track

Organizer 1: Guilherme Canela Godoi , UNESCO
Organizer 2: Mehdi Benchelah, UNESCO
Organizer 3: Andrea Cairola, UNESCO
Organizer 4: Dan Malinovich, UNDP
Organizer 5: Malgorzata Wisniewska, UNDP
Organizer 6: Valdemar Satoshi Rojle Christensen, UNDP
Organizer 7: Samrita Menon, UNESCO

Speaker 1: Guy Berger, Intergovernmental Organization, Intergovernmental Organization
Speaker 2: Sarah Lister, Intergovernmental Organization, Intergovernmental Organization
Speaker 3: Mathilde Vougny, Intergovernmental Organization, Intergovernmental Organization
Speaker 4: Souhaieb Khayati, Civil Society, African Group
Speaker 5: Laura Zommer, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Speaker 6: William Bird, Civil Society, African Group

Moderator

Mehdi Benchelah, Intergovernmental Organization, Intergovernmental Organization

Online Moderator

Dan Malinovich, Intergovernmental Organization, Intergovernmental Organization

Rapporteur

Andrea Cairola, Intergovernmental Organization, Intergovernmental Organization

Format

Debate - Auditorium - 90 Min

Policy Question(s)

1. What can be the role of each stakeholder (including electoral management bodies, audiovisual regulatory bodies, Internet platforms, electoral observers from CSOs and from IGOs, and journalists) to tackle the challenge of disinformation and to keep trust in the election process?

2. In light of the current and unprecedented global crisis brought upon by the COVID-19 outbreak, how can free, fair, and safe elections be ensured in the face of a pandemic?

Elections constitute a key moment in political life as they allow citizens to express their choices and designate the political representatives who will determine important aspects of the present and future of their countries. Because of their critical importance, election periods are also a time where disinformation (so called “fake news”) can proliferate, with the aim of misleading the public and propagating false information about various issues and interests. Electoral disinformation also may be criminalized in disproportionate or arbitrary ways.

In addition, the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus has given rise to a new challenge: how to ensure free, fair, and safe elections in the face of a pandemic? To that effect, the proposed session shall seek:

1. To discuss good practices and lessons learnt that already took place in all regions of the world on how to deal with the impacts of disinformation (particular the one circulating in social media), and other health crisis, in the electoral processes;

2. To debate policies aiming to keep trust in the election process and the role for each stakeholder to tackle this challenge, particularly in relation with legitimate actions to combat disinformation, including during a health crisis;

3. To discuss alternative ways of organizing an election (including ways of voting and campaigning) in times of a pandemic.

SDGs

GOAL 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Description:

The proposed debate will use a multistakeholder approach – through the participation inter alia of electoral management bodies or practitioners, audiovisual regulatory bodies, Internet platforms, electoral observers (from CSOs and from IGOs), and journalists – in tackling the question of elections in times of disinformation. In so doing, the discussions will involve a debate on policies aiming to keep trust in the election process, and the role of each stakeholder to tackle this challenge, particularly in relation with fighting disinformation.

In addition, given the current and unprecedented global crisis brought upon by the COVID-19 outbreak, the issue of online and mobile voting will also be addressed, in order to discuss alternative ways of organizing elections (including alternative ways to vote and campaign) that would minimize contact and exposure in the context of a pandemic.

Expected Outcomes

Taking into account the aforementioned issues, the session envisions the following expected results:

1. Enhancing the participation of electoral management bodies, audiovisual regulatory bodies, Internet platforms, electoral observers (from CSOs and from IGOs), and journalists in the Internet governance debate;

2. Awareness raised by the aforementioned stakeholders and the public on freedom of expression standards, strategies to address the disinformation phenomenon and good practices in times of elections;

3. Fostering South-South and North-South cooperation among existing networks of electoral management bodies, political leaders, Internet platforms, electoral observers (from CSOs and from IGOs) and journalists on Internet governance issues.

The session is conceived as a talk-show, with a strong role being played by the moderators in involving the invited speakers and audience in contributing to the achievement of the key expected outcomes of the session.

Relevance to Internet Governance

Internet Governance is, by definition, a multistakeholder endeavor. However, within the different aggregated groups normally joining the discussion (governments, for instance) we also have a multiplicity of other players that are relevant to the debate, but quite often aren’t part of it.

Electoral authorities, electoral observers (from CSOs and from IGOs), and journalists have a key role to play in tackling disinformation while defending freedom of expression and access to information during times of election, and building trust within the population in order to ensure free and fair elections. This session, which focuses on elections in times of disinformation, seeks to bring their perspective to the Internet Governance arena.

Relevance to Theme

A free, independent and pluralistic media landscape plays an important role in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly Sustainable Development Goal 16.10 on peace, justice and strong institutions. It is also crucial to democracy, particularly during electoral periods. Without a free press, there can be no democracy.

Keeping trust in the election process – and the information being shared during this process - is a fundamental prerequisite to ensure free, fair, and safe elections. Therefore, this workshop underlines the essential role of the media and electoral stakeholders in ensuring trust during the election process, and the need to tackle disinformation through such means as monitoring and fact checking, journalistic investigation, actions by online platforms including curatorial and technical responses, and through promoting media and information literacy.

Online Participation

 

Usage of IGF Official Tool.

 

Agenda

Introductory remarks (10min):

  • Mr. Guy Berger, UNESCO Director of the Division for Communication and Information Strategy and Policy ; and Ms Sarah Lister, UNDP Head of Governance.

Multi-regional perspective (45 min):

  • Electoral observers (from CSOs and from IGOs), networks of fact-checkers and journalists from Africa, Europe and Latin America will present their achievements in tackling the question of disinformation and the challenge in organizing or covering elections during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Open debate with the audience (30min).

1. Key Policy Questions and related issues
1. Disinformation is not a new phenomenon and has existed throughout history, including in periods of elections, but what are some of its new aspects, and how does it affect the work of stakeholders such as fact-checkers, the media and civil society organisations?
2. What are some good practices that are being implemented to tackle this issue, especially in the context of elections?
3. How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the electoral process (for instance with the increase of mail-in-ballots voting but also digitalization with online and mobile voting) and increased the risk of disinformation during this process?
2. Summary of Issues Discussed

This session on ‘Elections in times of disinformation’ covered three key aspects of disinformation that pose new challenges to democracies and inclusive governance including the expanding volume of information being produced, its geographical scope and reach, and the rapidly changing information landscape. The expert speakers discussed the role of new communication strategies used by political candidates, micro-targeting political messages on mobile devices, and undermining traditional media, as some of the main factors causing electoral mistrust today.

In terms of good practices and recommendations to fight the spread of disinformation, the session underscored the importance of agile channels of coordination and communication across all media and electoral stakeholders, especially at the national level. There is a crucial need for widespread media and information literacy to empower audiences and citizens with the accurate tools to stop the repetitive sharing of falsehoods. The speakers also cautioned against excessively restricting legitimate expression and encouraging a robust public debate through evidence-based content moderation and fact-checking.

Concluding with a discussion of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on elections, a key takeaway was that building trust in public institutions such as electoral commissions is a major factor that determines the credibility of elections. Most countries are continuing to host elections with precautionary health measures in place. Therefore, information about essential sanitary measures and health information must be communicated accurately and in a timely manner, to conduct elections smoothly.

3. Key Takeaways

This session presented the current trends and aspects of disinformation and their effect on elections and recommended a set of good practices to tackle the spread of disinformation in electoral periods, particularly in the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The exchanges highlighted the essential role of journalists and electoral stakeholders in ensuring trust during the election process.

Drawing a contrast with traditional media, the panelists identified three key aspects that pose new challenges to democracies and inclusive governance:

  1. The unprecedented increase in information sharing and a significant shift in the way people are exchanging information and engaging with others;
  2. Its geographical scope and reach; and
  3. The rapidly changing information landscape with information related to elections flowing faster and easier than ever. 

The panel of experts underlined the need for agile means of communication, coordination, and collaboration across multiple stakeholders of the media and electoral processes, accompanied by a framework of accountability, notably for social media companies. The speakers also cautioned against excessively restricting legitimate expression and encouraging a robust public debate through evidence-based content moderation.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, elections have adapted to new restrictions and nationally issued health guidelines. Consequently, trust in public electoral bodies, and quality journalism emerged as key factors to deter the viral spread of disinformation. The discussion also emphasized the role of media literacy for audiences and encouraged improved research and the development of new technologies to respond rapidly to the spread of disinformation.

6. Final Speakers
  • Laura Zommer, Executive and Editor-in-Chief at Chequeado, the first initiative of fact-checking and verification of public discourse in Latin America
  • Mathilde Vougny, Programme Specialist, Elections, EC-UNDP Joint Task Force on Electoral Assistance
  • Souhaib Khayati, Director of the North African Bureau, Reporters without Borders
  • William Bird, Director of Media Monitoring Africa.
7. Reflection to Gender Issues

The session discussed several types of disinformation, and its impact on internet users and audiences, which has an important implication on issues of gender. Disinformation is not always in the form of data, but it can also be a picture taken out of context to incite people. False facts and distorted images can also be used to harass and humiliate women, including female politicians, public personalities, and journalists. The speakers explored content moderation and fact-checking as ways to tackle such forms of disinformation online.

8. Session Outputs

1. Enhancing the participation of electoral management bodies, audiovisual regulatory bodies, Internet platforms, electoral observers (from CSOs and from IGOs), and journalists in the Internet governance debate.

2. Awareness raised by the aforementioned stakeholders and the public on freedom of expression standards, strategies to address the disinformation phenomenon and good practices in times of elections.

3. Fostering cooperation among existing networks of electoral management bodies, political leaders, Internet platforms, electoral observers (from CSOs and from IGOs) and journalists on Internet governance issues.