In addition to building new partnerships to confront the challenge of disinformation in elections, pre-existing election networks, such as the Global Network for Domestic Election Monitors (GNDEM) or the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation community, can elevate the issue of disinformation, build consensus around defining the challenges that it poses to electoral integrity, and develop best practices to counter it.
As more election monitoring organizations begin to incorporate disinformation monitoring into their broader observation efforts, there are abundant opportunities for peer-to-peer learning and improvement of monitoring methodologies. In September 2019 in Belgrade, Serbia, NDI conducted an intensive academy for citizen observers from 20 different organizations from around the world on detecting, exposing, and countering malign disinformation. Participants in the academy learned how disinformation affects electoral integrity, undermines democratic principles, and weakens citizens’ trust in elections. The participants shared strategies and methods to monitor disinformation in their own contexts. They walked through exercises on assessing information environments in their countries and practiced using various tools for tracking and analyzing disinformation online. The academy structure encouraged participants to share their organizations’ experiences and highlighted lessons learned from working with various social media monitoring tools. For example, ISFED and the CDD-West Africa facilitated discussions and presented on the methods and tools their organizations used to monitor disinformation in their respective contexts.
Participants also explored methods for advocating for greater transparency in online platforms and elevating fact-based political discourse. This included working together to identify ways to hold institutions accountable, build advocacy networks, and create effective messaging to thwart toxic narratives, rooted in each group's local experience.
Knowledge-sharing initiatives have resulted in concrete guidance documents and resources. Over a series of meetings and drafting consultations in the spring of 2019, a small working group representing a mix of international election observers, including NDI, citizen election monitors, academics, fact-checking groups, and civic technologists developed a guide for social media monitoring by civil society, spearheaded by Democracy Reporting International (DRI). This guide includes sections on methodology, legal considerations, and tools for social media monitoring in elections by civic groups, working towards creating collective standards and best practices for groups working in the space.
Similar efforts are underway in the international election observation community as part of the continued implementation of the Declaration of Principles. A working group under the DoP is currently building consensus around a framework to observe and assess online campaigns and recommendations grounded in international standards and best practices. As mentioned in the previous section on international election observation, many participating organizations have already begun incorporating this work into their observation missions. The working group presents a chance to identify a set of approaches, rooted in international standards (freedom of expression, transparency, right to political participation, right to privacy, equality and freedom from discrimination, effective remedy) and respective mandates of endorsers of the DoP to assess online campaigns and to seek agreement on a common set of guidelines for the observation of online campaigns by international election observation missions. These guiding principles will be reviewed and endorsed at the DoP annual implementation meeting in Brussels in Spring 2021.