Annan Commission calls for urgent action by governments, business and civil society to protect democracy from digital threats. The final report of the Commission sets out actionable recommendations in five major areas: polarization, hate speech, disinformation, political advertising and foreign interference.
Among the key findings of the report:
- Current debate on the impact of digital platforms is dominated by claims based on inconclusive evidence and competing or incomplete data;
- The rise of the transnational business of election influencing poses risks to democracy if it is not regulated;
- Democracies in the Global South are the most vulnerable to digital threats; and
- Countries with pre-existing polarization, a history of violence, and highly partisan media are particularly vulnerable to the weaponization of social media.
The use of digital technologies during elections have become a source of concern after they have been weaponized during key events such as recent protests in Hong Kong, the 2019 EU Parliamentary elections, and the past US Presidential campaign.
This report comes at an inflection point where if action is not taken, electoral integrity will be at risk in key elections around the world this year.
It is the culmination of the Commission’s work over the last year, which included extensive consultations in every continent. Laura Chinchilla, Chair of the Kofi Annan Commission on Elections and Democracy in the Digital Age, explained:
“Much of global attention has been on digital threats and foreign manipulation of elections afflicting Western countries. For the first time, we take a particular look at the Global South, where new democracies or those in transition are particularly vulnerable to digital threats but where promising democratic developments are also taking place.”
Based on these, and other key findings, the Commission recommends measures to strengthen norms and build capacity, with specific actions by public authorities and internet platforms, including:
Governments should establish an international convention regulating cross-border engagement to distinguish legitimate electoral assistance from illicit or unlawful interventions.
Countries must adapt their political advertising regulations to the online environment. In particular, the definition of political advertising should be a matter of law, defined by governments, and not left up to digital platforms.
Industry, governments and civil society actors concerned about the integrity of elections should create a global code of conduct defining the role of political consultancies and vendors of election equipment.
The Commission calls on governments to compel digital platforms to release their data to independent researchers. Without this critical information, a comprehensive assessment of the impact of technology on democracy cannot be completed and will continue to pose threats to the democratic process.
Social media platforms should create a coalition to address digital threats to democracy, as they have done collaboratively to address terrorism or child exploitation.
Alan Doss, President of the Kofi Annan Foundation added:
“Mr Annan cared deeply about democracy and established this Commission to ensure that the power of digital technologies could be harnessed to empower and engage citizens. The Commission was his last major policy initiative and is a fitting testament to his legacy as a defender of the right of people to have a say in how they are governed, and by whom.”