Exposing Disinformation through Election Monitoring

4. Advocacy for norms, standards, and policies to address disinformation in elections

Updated On
Apr 22, 2021

Electoral monitoring and electoral reform initiatives present a number of opportunities for advocacy at the local, national, and international level. Election observers are in a strong position to provide clear and actionable recommendations through observation statements as well as long-term electoral reform projects to enhance transparency and promote a healthy electoral information environment. Election observation statements by international election observers can draw international attention to particular challenges, and recommendations within those statements often serve as benchmarks for democratic actors to pursue advances and create accountability for their relevant targets. For instance, international election observation missions in Ukraine noted ongoing shortcomings of the tech industry in online political advertising transparency and limitations in their ability to manage electoral disinformation at the local level. International organizations that observe elections also can draw attention to normative issues to be addressed by technology companies and can help gain the attention of intergovernmental organizations and other sectors concerning those issues. 

Meanwhile, citizen election observers already play effective roles in highlighting deficiencies in regulations and enforcement in their own countries and advocating for reforms. The citizen election monitoring group OPORA in Ukraine released clear recommendations for the Ukrainian electoral code to address issues they identified in their monitoring of Facebook content and political advertisements during the 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections. Amidst ongoing attempts by political groups and foreign actors to undermine the election environment in Georgia, ISFED coordinated with 48 other leading Georgian civil society and media organizations to successfully pressure Facebook to increase transparency and accountability measures ahead of the 2020 parliamentary elections. Citizen observer groups Sri Lanka worked together to pressure the government to provide stronger campaign finance oversight mechanisms for political ads online. 

Supporting electoral reform efforts and dialogue between election management bodies (EMBs) and observers to expand the availability of election information and encourage transparency of political data, such as voting results (from the polling station to the national level), voter registries and related population numbers, procurement processes, complaints adjudication, and political advertisements on social media, can be central to address misinformation and disinformation. Transparent, accessible data can inoculate EMBs from conspiracy theories or misinformation while increasing citizens’ ability to fact-check information they may receive from third parties. Constructive engagement on this front can help build public confidence in otherwise vulnerable electoral institutions, and encourage EMBs to develop their own strategies for mitigating and responding to disinformation attempts to undermine their own credibility