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Unmasking Election Meddlers: Information Manipulation in Elections and How to Combat It

October 12, 2023 by BSC0


The panel “Unmasking Election Meddlers: Information Manipulation in Elections and How to Combat It”, moderated by Tamara Branković, Deputy Program Director, CRTA, explored the vulnerability of elections to evolving manipulation techniques that tend to disrupt democratic processes. The panelists sought to answer three important questions: What are the most common election manipulation tactics? Who are the actors that nowadays pose the greatest threat to election integrity? Are we prepared for “deepfake” operations?


The panel kicked off with the issue of recognizing foreign interference in elections. Septimius Parvu, Electoral and Active Citizenship Expert, Expert Forum, explained that there were many different forms of interference in elections and that the most dangerous were mixed foreign and domestic interferences. Furthermore, Parvu pointed out that one of the most worrying problems was that the authorities were very often unprepared for disinformation campaigns, and their response was always reactive. “The main purpose of this type of campaign is to raise fury in public”, he stressed. Accordingly, he pointed out that digital platforms played a significant role as intermediaries in political campaigns. Mr. Parvu stated that there had been a shift from real-world campaigns to large internet platforms, which raises the question of their responsibility.



Yana Yolotaryova, Manager of Communications, Civil Network OPORA, emphasized that fair elections were about the safety of the state, but also the physical safety of the citizens. She noted that influential tech companies should not only focus on large markets but also smaller ones since they can be used as very important case studies in identifying foreign interference.



Vujo Ilić, Research and Policy Advisor, CRTA; Research Fellow, Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory (University of Belgrade), reminded the panelists that some kind of election interference had always been around, but that they had become more prominent in recent years due to changes in the environments in which elections are held. He emphasized four major changes: the crisis of “legacy media”, the replacement of traditional news gatekeepers with algorithms, the crisis of democracy, and the rise of illiberal actors who interfere in elections worldwide.



When asked about a starting point for building the resilience of the election process, the panelists agreed that there was a need to engage large social platforms in the whole process, as well as to help citizens differentiate between real and fake election observers.



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