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Elections in 2021 India and Africa

Elections can be a challenging time for fact-checkers, given the potential impact of false and misleading political information on democratic processes. Our fact-checking partners have already braced themselves for fierce and difficult elections in the months to come. 

Election fact-checking comes with its own complexities. In India, the diversity of languages, cultural contexts and subnational political landscapes add to the challenges of monitoring and addressing misinformation, while Africa’s varied political landscapes have led to mixed results for fact-checkers, ranging from favourable to completely chaotic. 

The increasing visibility of fact-checking, as well as misleading statements put out to influence voters, are likely to further worsen the already dire situation, and with five elections lined up in India and a host of elections in Africa scheduled for 2021, our partners have already devised their plans to tackle misinformation. 

India Today : According to Balkrishna, the editor at India Today Fact Check, the Eastern state of West Bengal is likely to see a significant amount of content that aims to polarize voters. The state has a track record of the worst kind of election violence and we can already see the charged up atmosphere there. According to Balkrishna, the Southern state of Kerala is similar to West Bengal in terms of having a sizable minority population and this makes it a fit case for communal politics. In the state of Assam in the North East, the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a big political issue and India Today Fact Check anticipates misinformation around The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and NRC to be used to reap votes.

India Today Fact Check has already ramped up their capabilities in West Bengal and have hired team members based in the state capital Kolkata to deal with this important election. India Today is also starting fact- checking in Malayalam, the language used by majority people in Kerala, to cater to the needs of people in the state. At both state levels, India Today already has its bureaus and a network of local reporters who would be involved for on- ground verification of facts.

BOOM will be following all the state elections, and they believe that West Bengal will be the most crucial election of the year. They have a team of 5 reporters based in the state who are monitoring content both online and offline. BOOM also publishes content in Bengali language, and their focus is on misinformation emerging out of the pre-election rallies and political realignments that are taking place in the state. Given the dynamic between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the ruling party at the centre in India and Trinamool Congress (TMC), the ruling party in West Bengal, BOOM expects to see false narratives and misinformation featuring these dynamics prominently. They intend to produce text stories, simple explainers and videos explaining what is happening in the state. 

Factly, which works prominently in India’s Telugu-speaking Southern states, plans to look out for misinformation around elections, but also focus on improving authentic information around election processes in general. They are anticipating voter fraud, as well as misleading information on where to vote, voter lists, and electronic voter machines (EVMs). They also expect misinformation around the work done by state and central governments. 

AFP Fact Check has also prioritized the West Bengal election, and plans to grow their Bengali-speaking fact-checking team. They will also use CrowdTangle to monitor misinformation and deploy Facebook ads in regional languages to promote their tipline. 

Jagran Media’s Vishvas News plans a major campaign around misinformation in the election states and will disseminate fact-checked information in local languages. As they have done in previous elections, they will conduct media and information literacy programs for citizens to introduce basic fact-checking tools for members of the public to become fact-checkers in their own social circles.

PesaCheck, our newest 3PFC partner based in Kenya and with a presence in 12 African countries, had some experience fact-checking elections in Tanzania and Uganda in October 2020 and January 2021 respectively. The most significant election coming up for them is Ethiopia in June 2021. The main challenge that they have faced is that the internet shutdowns have become more prevalent before, during, and immediately after elections in Africa. In response to this, the PesaCheck team plans to work with people on the ground in the countries they operate in, and in the event that the local fact-checker is unreachable, they intend to have an alternate on the team versed in the country in question. To do this, they position the fact-checkers they have close to the countries and within the regions where these elections are happening, for example in Mali during the election in Niger, to help out.

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