Authors: Meherab Hossain and Md. Obaidullah
Democracy, as articulated by Abraham Lincoln, is characterized as a government that operates “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” However, in the contemporary global context, democracy faces significant challenges, and there is a growing question regarding whether various nations across the world genuinely adhere to the principles of governance “for the people, of the people, and by the people.”
Democracy exists in numerous countries, yet it often operates under the façade of what is commonly referred to as “authoritarian democracy.” Robust authoritarian governments, in some instances, possess a more advantageous position for efficiently implementing unpopular reforms when compared to democratic counterparts. Nevertheless, historical evidence indicates that unpopular policies enacted by authoritarian regimes frequently serve the primary purpose of consolidating the power of the ruling elite or enriching them, rather than genuinely advancing the interests of society as a whole.
In an era where democratic fundamentals and electoral processes are scrutinized, preserving democratic values hinges on safeguarding the integrity of these processes and countering misinformation. This importance becomes even more pronounced in the context of increasing authoritarian tendencies. As elections wield significant influence over the destinies of nations, it is imperative to prioritize their safeguarding and the proactive management of information to uphold democratic ideals effectively.
Why and How Disinformation threats to Democratic Electoral Process?
One of the biggest threats to democracy and the integrity of elections is disinformation as it is responsible for creating confusion and a sense of being inundated among voters, ultimately diminishing their trust in the electoral process. It has the potential to shape voters’ perceptions and convictions, thus potentially impacting their actions which serves as a tool to disseminate groundless election denialism, complicating efforts to furnish voters with factual details.
During elections, disinformation tactics are employed to influence voters and manipulate the electoral process. These tactics include making unfounded claims of fraud or irregularities in the voting process, manipulating content like images, videos, or quotes taken out of context to create misleading narratives about candidates or issues, generating fabricated news to appear legitimate, using misleading polls to distort perceptions of candidate or issue popularity, employing media taken out of context to construct deceptive narratives or enhance dubious narratives, spreading false information about polling locations or voting procedures to confuse voters and potentially suppress their participation, and disseminating conspiracy theories to instill fear and confusion among voters.
A study found that the disinformation campaign that affected elections in multiple countries was the use of social media platforms by Russian operatives to spread false information during the 2016 United States presidential election. Russian actors, including the Internet Research Agency (IRA), engaged in a coordinated effort to influence American voters through the dissemination of disinformation and propaganda on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. The IRA’s tactics included creating fake social media accounts, organizing and promoting divisive events, and sharing misleading or false news articles. These efforts aimed to sow discord among the American population, amplify existing social and political divisions, and ultimately influence the outcome of the election. The impact of this disinformation campaign was significant, with millions of Americans exposed to IRA-generated content on social media platforms. The spread of false information and the manipulation of public opinion raised concerns about the integrity of the electoral process and the role of social media in shaping political discourse.
During the 2022 election there was a notable disinformation campaign that impacted the electoral process. In the days leading up, to the election Brazilian voters were inundated with news and misinformation on social media platforms. These baseless rumors, driven by motives created an environment in Brazilian politics, reminiscent of what has been witnessed in U.S. Politics. The surge of rumors prompted Brazil to implement what some experts consider to be the stringent speech restrictions in their young democracy. The Superior Electoral Court as the authority in the country announced a ban on content that is “false or seriously distorted” and could undermine the integrity of the electoral process.
Additionally paid internet advertising related to elections was prohibited two days before and one day after voting took place. While these new measures provoked dissatisfaction among supporters of Bolsonaro others argued that they were necessary given the magnitude of disinformation campaigns experienced during this time. The utilization of media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Telegram by actors for spreading false information and propaganda posed significant challenges, to Brazilian democracy. These disinformation campaigns were funded by business leaders closely connected to parties. The spread of information and misleading news has raised concerns regarding the integrity of the system and the impact that social media platforms have on shaping political discussions.
Disinformation campaigns exert a substantial influence on voter turnout. They induce confusion and overwhelm voters, eroding confidence in the electoral process and reducing motivation to participate. Such misinformation can foster the belief that elections are rigged or flawed, further discouraging engagement. It also can obstruct voting by creating uncertainty about the logistics of voting, potentially leading to voter suppression, and shapes public perception of electoral management bodies and officials, undermining trust and participation. Ultimately, it molds voters’ attitudes and actions towards the electoral process, with enduring impacts on future election participation.