In 2024, approximately half of the world's population will participate in elections in what some dub the mother of all election years. According to the World Economic Forum: 2024 Global Risks Report, misinformation and disinformation have emerged as the biggest global threat to democracy in the next two years. This is particularly important as geopolitical influencers with millions of voters head to the polls in the United States, India, Mexico, South Africa, UK, Pakistan, and Indonesia, facing potential threat of election related misinformation. WEF ranked the issue as the most significant of 34 risks facing India, the 6th most critical in the U.S., and the 11th in Mexico and the U.K., where elections, though initially set for 2025, are expected to occur earlier this year.
Disinformation shadow over the Global North
Ahead of the European Union parliamentary elections in June, fact-checkers have identified disinformation related to electoral processes in several European countries (Ukraine, Germany, Poland) and the U.S., often aiming to delegitimize elections through unfounded claims of voter fraud and foreign influence mostly originating from within the E.U., with some media entities and politicians often spreading misinformation.
In the U.S. 140 million Americans are on messaging apps, many of whom live in information deserts that are cut off from state and regional news networks. Voters rely on their cell phones, which offer a diet heavy on national news, as well as misinformation and disinformation, according to the 2023 Northwestern State of Local News Report.
Especially popular in immigrant and non-English speaking communities in the U.S., messaging apps have the highest read rate, and direct/personalized content influences behavior more than social posts. Platforms like WhatsApp, Telegram or Signal are unable to moderate content directly. In spite of substantial Big Tech investments to combat disinformation since 2016, shockingly little has focused on messaging spaces. Similar concerns and issues are also observed in upcoming elections in the Larger World.
Elections in the Larger World under threat
The landscape of misinformation in the Larger World presents opportunities for civil unrest and government interference. Meedan is establishing partnerships in these countries to tackle misinformation ahead of elections.
In Indonesia, the struggle is against the backdrop of religious and ethnic divides, with misinformation campaigns frequently exploiting these sensitive topics to sway public opinion and discredit political opponents. Using Check, Meedan is collaborating with CekFakta a collaborative fact-checking project initiated by Mafindo (Indonesia Anti-Defamation Society) together with Liputan6 (newsroom) and Tempo (digital news magazine) to distribute verified information in the February elections. India's general elections are crucial for regional stability and its global role. A possible third term for Prime Minister Narendra Modi could influence Indian governance and international prestige, but there's concern about potential risk of disinformation influencing election outcomes.
In Mexico's general elections in June, voters will decide for the first time in history between two women presidential candidates where dynamics are heavily influenced by misinformation campaigns that are often entangled with drug cartel interests and political corruption, muddying the waters for citizens seeking reliable information. While South Africa and Ghana, despite having made significant strides in democratic processes, still grapple with misinformation often spread through radio and mobile platforms. These narratives typically exploit socio-economic disparities and historical injustices, thereby deepening mistrust in electoral processes. In South Africa, a regional economic and diplomacy leader is also at risk of misinformation campaigns in what is expected to be the most competitive in 30 years.
Results from Meedan's collaboration on elections in the Philippines and Brazil in 2022 demonstrated the need to apply multifaceted approaches in combating false narratives. Firstly, misinformation campaigns are not confined to election periods but persist before and after elections, necessitating long-term planning and sustained efforts. Secondly, multi-stakeholder coalitions, like FactsFirstPH established ahead of the Philippines elections in partnership with Rappler, have proven effective in combating misinformation at scale by coordinating efforts across communities and platforms. In this case, 143 members of the coalition of Civil Society Organizations (CSO), researchers, lawyers, and business groups, 16 newsrooms and fact-checkers came together to produce over 1,560 translated fact-checks and 21 studies on different aspects of disinformation.
In Brazil, partnerships with nonpartisan electoral authorities, such as with Brazil's Tribunal Superior Electoral (TSE), have been crucial in extending the reach of fact-checking efforts. A key innovation was using Meedan's Check software for a Shared Feed, enabling widespread fact-check distribution via a chatbot managed by TSE. Additionally, addressing the mental health and well-being of journalists and fact-checkers, who often face online harassment and exposure to traumatic content, is critical. Training programs for trauma mitigation have become a standard practice in all election projects.
Given the threat of misinformation and disinformation undermining election integrity this year, the urgency for strategic collaboration and support is paramount. Meedan urges increased funding and partnerships among journalists, researchers, civil society groups, electoral monitors, and technologists. These collaborations are vital for providing accurate information to the public and combating false narratives. Moreover, addressing the mental health impact on those dealing with harmful content is crucial. We advocate for mental health workshops and support for these frontline defenders. Your involvement and contribution are key to strengthening our fight against misinformation and upholding democratic integrity.
Contact us to explore collaboration opportunities.
This blog was published in Meedan’s Checklist newsletter, January 2024 edition.
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- Online conversations are heavily influenced by news coverage, like the 2022 Supreme Court decision on abortion. The relationship is less clear between big breaking news and specific increases in online misinformation.
- The tweets analyzed were a random sample qualitatively coded as “misinformation” or “not misinformation” by two qualitative coders trained in public health and internet studies.
- This method used Twitter’s historical search API
- The peak was a significant outlier compared to days before it using Grubbs' test for outliers for Chemical Abortion (p<0.2 for the decision; p<0.003 for the leak) and Herbal Abortion (p<0.001 for the decision and leak).
- All our searches were case insensitive and could match substrings; so, “revers” matches “reverse”, “reversal”, etc.