Measures to promote democratic information are less prevalent, but they do present an opportunity to obligate platforms, and possibly, domestic actors to proactively disseminate unbiased information in ways that can build resilience to political and electoral disinformation. Though there are few real-world examples, this category provides an opportunity to consider what types of legal and regulatory approaches might be feasible.
“Solutions could be aimed at enhancing individual access to information rather than merely protecting against public harm.” — David Kaye, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression
i. Promote Democratic Information: Measures directed at domestic actors
a. Require parties and candidates to issue corrections when party members or supporters share bad information
South Africa’s draft code of conduct on Measures to Address Disinformation Intended to Cause Harm During the Election Period (detailed discussion of this code of conduct (CoC) can be found in the topical section on EMB approaches to countering disinformation) stipulates that the Election Commission can compel parties and candidates to correct electoral disinformation that is shared by parties, candidates, or their members and supporters; “the registered party or candidate shall act immediately to take all reasonable measures in an effort to correct the disinformation and remedy any public harm caused, as may be appropriate in the circumstances and in consultation with the Commission.”52
South Africa’s CoC defines electoral disinformation with specificity and provides a framework for reporting and ruling on violations, which makes these provisions implementable. Definitional specificity around what types of electoral disinformation would be subject to correction and an independent oversight body are necessary for this approach to have an impact and not place undue obligations on political contestants.
If narrowly tailored and enforced, a mechanism to compel political contestants to correct information damaging to the credibility of the electoral process through their own networks of supporters has the potential to reach impacted audiences via the same channels where they might have encountered the problematic content. This, in turn, can amplify messages that election authorities are attempting to disseminate widely.
ii. Promote Democratic Information: Measures directed at platforms
While requiring public or private media outlets to provide equal, free advertising space to political contestants has precedent in a number of countries, another route is to mandate that free advertising space be made available to election authorities. Social media platforms offering free ad-space to election management bodies could be a useful and enforceable provision that could, for example, help boost turnout, educate voters in ways that mitigate invalid voting, or enhance marginalized groups’ access to information.
Using public media channels for this purpose is common practice. In addition, some countries require private media actors to offer free space to election authorities. In Mexico, the Constitution stipulates that during electoral periods, radio and television broadcasters must provide 48 minutes of free advertising space every day to be divided between electoral authorities, with space also reserved for messages from political parties.53 Air time is also provided in a more limited amount during non-electoral periods.54 Outside of this allotted time, political parties and candidates are not allowed to buy or place any additional television or radio advertisements.55 Venezuelan electoral law also requires private television providers to offer free advertising space to the election management body for civic education and voter information.56
Obligating private companies to serve as a channel for voter education is an interesting idea. Major platforms, including Facebook, Google, Instagram, and Twitter, have elected to provide voter information, such as election day reminders and instructions on how to vote, of their own volition (see the subcategory on EMB coordination with social media and technology companies). Ahead of the 2020 U.S. elections, Facebook also voluntarily launched a new tool called Voting Alerts that allowed state and local election authorities to reach their constituents with notifications on Facebook, whether or not the Facebook user followed the election authority’s Facebook Page. Given the voluntary nature of such measures, voter information integration into the platforms does not take place in all countries or for all elections. Platforms are less likely to roll out features for local or municipal elections, even if those elections are taking place nation-wide, than they are for presidential or parliamentary elections. Considering a requirement for platforms to provide free space for voter education as a part of the legal and regulatory code, particularly in countries where an analogous precedent exists for traditional or public media, could be something to explore. Additionally, requirements for advertisement-funded streaming internet television providers, search engines, or other media intermediaries could also be considered as another place to require advertisements to be integrated.
52. Clause 6(b).
53. Constitution of Mexico, (amended 2015): Article 41.III, § A(a).
54. Ibid., Article 41.III, § A(b-g).
55. Ibid., Article 41.III, § A.
56. General Regulation of the Organic Law of Electoral Processes, art. 214.