1. Responding to the Disinformation Threat through Election Monitoring: Programming Approaches and Categories

Election monitoring programs broadly serve to promote electoral integrity through enhanced participation, inclusion, transparency, and accountability, thus fostering citizen empowerment and confidence in the democratic process.

Developing the right election observation intervention(s) to respond to disinformation should not be done without first considering the context of each electoral environment.


Design Tip

The nature, vulnerabilities, mitigating factors, and opportunities around the electoral information, online and otherwise, vary significantly from country to country, and successful projects have demonstrated the importance of conducting a preliminary assessment to identify these factors before designing a program. Subsequently, monitoring methodologies and approaches should be shaped and driven by objectives and organizational capacity, not by available tools. 

Decisions to use technologies and methodologies should be made through an inclusive process, with consideration of the accessibility and technology gaps among different groups of observers and citizens, including along gender, age, geography, and other lines. In addition, identifying and exposing online barriers for women and marginalized groups in electoral processes necessarily requires an inclusive, gender sensitive approach and may require observers to incorporate and balance specialized methodologies into their overall effort  that create an accurate picture of how the electoral landscape affects specific populations. 

There are several options to address the specific threats that disinformation poses to electoral integrity in an individual country context:

  • Citizen election observation to identify and expose disinformation as it relates to electoral integrity, including monitoring online and traditional media around an electoral process
  • International election observation of the electoral information environment, including disinformation, in the short and long-term by credible international and regional observation missions and in line with the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation 
  • Advocacy for norms, standards, and policies to address disinformation in elections, including efforts by civil society and/or other groups to advocate for a range of appropriate responses from social media platforms and other private sector actors, legal reforms, policies and resource allocation from governments or legislatures, and support for norms-building and standards from regional and international instruments to combat disinformation during elections.
  • Building more effective partnerships between election observers and other key stakeholders, such as civic tech groups, fact-checkers, journalists, media monitors, electoral management bodies, women’s rights organizations and other CSOs that are composed of and represent marginalized groups, etc. 
  • Knowledge-sharing and developing best practices around combating disinformation in elections through workshops, online exchanges, guidance notes and other information sharing forms.

These interventions are explored in more detail below and demonstrate how focused electoral observation and analysis can enhance accountability and neutralize disinformation threats. Election monitoring is ideally conducted throughout the pre-election, election day, and post-election periods to evaluate all relevant aspects of the electoral process. Many of the case studies highlighted in this chapter are not standalone projects, but are part of broader election monitoring efforts that include online monitoring as a distinct component.