Disinformation can manifest in complex ways and may require a range of actors to address. Observer groups that lack the time, resources or skills to launch their own social media monitoring efforts may also collaborate, formally or informally, with media monitoring groups, academics, tech advocates, journalists' associations, women’s rights organizations, organizations that are comprised of and represent marginalized groups, conflict prevention organizations, or other actors that may already be examining disinformation issues. Such partnerships can ensure that election observers give due consideration of the quality of the electoral information space in their overall electoral analysis without conducting direct data collection themselves.
Observers may also consider partnerships with nontraditional monitoring groups, such as fact checkers and other research organizations with experience in social media and broader online monitoring. A report coauthored by the Open Society European Policy Institute and Democracy Reporting International highlights how groups ranging from academic projects (e.g. the Oxford Internet Institute's Computational Propaganda Project and the Brazilian Getúlio Vargas Foundation's Digital Democracy Room), think tanks (e.g. Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab) to fact-checking organizations (e.g. debunk.eu), to the private sector (e.g. Bakamo.Social) have all contributed to election monitoring in various forms.11 Multi-stakeholder collaboration forms one potential basis for development of next generation election observation and monitoring, allowing election observers to incorporate the findings of credible partners into electoral assessments rather than duplicate their work, thus expanding the potential leverage for advocacy around norms and standards. This may be a particularly useful approach for international election observers, who are outsiders by definition and who conduct analysis over a relatively short timeframe.
Groups can also leverage partnerships to convene multi-stakeholder roundtables about countering disinformation, or to expand the agenda for pre-existing fora for sharing information around elections to also discuss how parties, media, election management bodies (EMBs), observers, and others can help one another spread the information to the broader public and create accountability for maintaining information integrity.
Relationships with credible EMBs are particularly important for both addressing disinformation through voter education and for encouraging EMBs to enhance their abilities to rapidly respond to electoral disinformation. For example, NDI co-hosted an event with Mexico’s election commission (INE) that focused on responding to disinformation threats in Mexico’s July 1, 2018 elections. This brought together a diverse mix of electoral stakeholders, including representatives from major tech platforms, academics, election monitors, and other civic activists in addition to election administrators. To facilitate further collaboration between electoral stakeholders, NDI organized workshops and regular coordination meetings between civic tech groups, fact-checkers, and citizen election observer groups to collaborate on combatting electoral disinformation. This approach was particularly helpful in merging Mexico’s civic tech expertise with the electoral analysis lens that observer groups could provide.
Following a similar model, the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy (TFD), under the Global Cooperation and Training Framework (GCTF) mechanism, organized a conference in September 2019 entitled “Defending Democracy Through Promoting Media Literacy II.”12 Its purpose was to examine the different ways disinformation influences elections around the world, the implementation of media literacy education in curricula, how government and civil society initiatives have evolved to combat disinformation, and the challenges they face. The conference recognized the fact that Taiwan and other countries in the Asia-Pacific region faced presidential and general elections in 2020.
NDI partnered with the TFD for the GCTF event and identified an opportunity to combine the conference with a more hands-on training event for civic groups from across the region. Following the GCTF, NDI organized and led a one-day workshop “Defending Electoral Integrity Against Disinformation,” attended by 13 NDI-funded civil society participants, mostly representing citizen election observer groups and fact checking organizations in Asian countries with upcoming elections, as well as guests from the Taiwanese civic tech movement. Building on the information presented during the GCTF, the workshop explored social media monitoring in greater depth. The workshop shared strategies and tools for assessing information environments, navigating the social-media platforms, collecting and analyzing social-media data, developing approaches for countering anti-democratic speech, and holding various stakeholders accountable. This workshop provided citizen observer groups and fact-checkers from the same country the opportunity to work together on mutual support, advocacy, and coordination approaches leading up to their respective elections.
Related efforts have been designed to better build consensus among a broader universe of actors for international observers. For instance, the Carter Center has developed a partnership with grassroots journalism organization Hacks Hackers to conduct a series of workshops among international election observer groups, other electoral assistance practitioners, international fact-checking networks, academics, and technologists to strengthen interventions and best practices for verifying elections in the face of misinformation and disinformation on social media.
12. Ministry of Foreign Affairs Republic of China (Taiwan), Ministry of Foreign Affairs Republic of China, 2020, www.mofa.gov.tw/cp.aspx?n=198C820F108A89FB.