March 6, 2018  |  Updated February 13, 2019

Fighting Fiction: Countering Disinformation Through Election Monitoring

By Julia Brothers

Elections, the sine qua non of democracy and fundamental cornerstone of political accountability to the public, are increasingly vulnerable to disinformation: the deliberate generation and dissemination of false or misleading information to manipulate public opinion. Democratic elections rely on a competitive process, faith in electoral institutions, and informed participation. The strategic deployment of false, exaggerated, or contradictory narratives is anathema to these things. It amplifies voter confusion, dampens turnout, galvanizes social cleavages, disadvantages certain parties and candidates or otherwise tilts the playing field, and degrades trust in democratic institutions. Disinformation is quickly becoming a prevalent threat to the integrity of democratic elections. How can election observers respond?

Election observers are constantly adjusting their monitoring methodologies to keep up with evolving tactics to undercut credible electoral processes, on and beyond election day. When it was clear incumbents around the world were abusing state resources for their own electoral advantage during the campaign period, election observers started deploying long-term observers to monitor key aspects of the pre-election environment. When governments began exploiting state media to skew public opinion ahead of election day, observers incorporated media monitoring into their observation. When authoritarians began to manipulate the voter registration process to constrict or inflate the voter rolls, observers started conducting voter list audits and more thoroughly monitoring registration exercises. Just as election observers have responded to shifting electoral concerns over time with new and expanded methodologies, monitoring how disinformation affects the overall integrity of the electoral process should be no different.

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