Posted by Julia Brothers, Senior Election and Political Advisor, National Democratic Institute
Democratic elections depend on a competitive process, faith in electoral institutions and the informed participation of all citizens. However, the spread of false, exaggerated or contradictory information in the electoral environment effectively undermines these principles around the world. By interfering with the shaping and shaping of opinions, disinformation increases voter confusion, lowers turnout, stimulates social division, creates advantages or disadvantages for certain parties and candidates, and diminishes trust in democratic institutions. While anti-democratic disinformation campaigns are not new, modern information technology and platforms through which citizens receive their news, including online and through social media, encourage the dissemination of information at speed, distance and volume.
International standards for democratic elections provide an open, reliable and pluralistic information environment that promotes equal and full participation in elections for both citizens and competitors. These standards are enshrined in international and regional instruments that reflect pre-existing, globally recognized obligations regarding disinformation, including:
- The right to hold opinions and seek and receive information in order to make an informed choice on election day : everyone has the right to freely form, hold and change their opinions, which is an integral part of the free exercise of the right to vote. 1 Voters also have the right to seek, receive and impart accurate information that enables them to make informed choices about their future without being intimidated, abused or manipulated. 2 In addition, institutions are generally required to be transparent about election information so that voters can be informed and data sources can be held accountable. 3These rights are reserved for all citizens regardless of race, gender, language, place of origin, political or other beliefs, religion or other status. 4 Organizations are increasingly working to link these standards to the principles of disinformation and cyberspace . Election-related disinformation efforts undermine these rights because they are designed to suppress genuine political debate by deliberately misleading voters, creating confusion, increasing polarization, and undermining public confidence in the electoral process.
- Right to a level playing field : Universal and equal suffrage, in addition to the right to vote, includes the right to seek election to public office without discrimination. The government's obligation to ensure a level playing field for electoral candidates stems from this provision. The UN Human Rights Committee makes recommendations on this matter in its General Comment No. 25 to the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights). The norm is to ensure safety from libelous attacks and other forms of false information aimed at damaging the electoral success of a candidate or party. The obligations apply to state-controlled media, and the rule applies to the professional ethics of journalists and private media. 5Fact-checking, other forms of verification, and monitoring of traditional and social media are part of this norm, as well as the right of voters to receive accurate information on the basis of which they can make an informed choice in elections. Media manipulation can undermine fair competition, especially for those disproportionately influenced by disinformation campaigns, such as women and marginalized communities, who already face an unequal playing field.
- Freedom of Expression, Press and Regulation:The above obligations must be balanced with the freedom of everyone to hold and express opinions, including the need to respect and protect a free press. One aspect of countering disinformation campaigns is the development of an appropriate regulatory framework, including effective sanctions. Gender, racial, ethnic, religious and other forms of hate speech and incitement to violence are often disseminated through disinformation campaigns that affect both candidates and voters. Legal regulations in this area, such as the protection of personal reputation, can be applied in the context of disinformation. However, regulation should not be overestimated, and care should be taken to protect freedom of expression in an attempt to protect the integrity of the information space in and outside elections.See General Comment 34 .
In recognition of these necessary democratic conditions, the presence and impact of disinformation must be taken into account in any comprehensive assessment of the electoral process. Even if elections are well-organized and transparent, the badly compromised information environment before and on election day can undermine their credibility. Identifying the types, volumes and patterns of misinformation and misinformation that can affect election integrity is critical to mitigate their impact. Political observers should analyze gaps in the information environment with an understanding of social norms and divisions in the local context in defining electoral integrity and creating accountability for all stakeholders who engage in or benefit from disinformation tactics.
Traditional electoral guarantees, especially election observers, are expanding their capabilities, activities, relationships and advocacy efforts to counter misinformation threats to electoral integrity. Exposing fake news through emerging fact-checking networks and increasing media and digital literacy play an important role in building resilience and improving the information environment associated with elections. These actions, as well as active efforts to inform political debate and provide accurate data on elections, can serve as an inoculation against information clutter. All of these efforts can complement each other to protect electoral and political processes.