Cabaero: Disinformation and elections

Cabaero: Disinformation and elections

Reports have cropped up recently to warn of the potential impact of disinformation on the over 50 elections scheduled for this year in countries across the world.

They said the unrestricted use of social media, messaging apps and artificial intelligence (AI) will affect the elections in one way or more. In the Philippines, the next elections are scheduled next year to elect senators, House of Representatives members, and local officials. The results of the 2025 Philippine exercises would be crucial as those elected could affect the groundwork for the next presidential and vice presidential elections set for 2028.

The report titled “Disinformation Casts a Shadow Over Global Elections” by the United States Institute of Peace and released on Jan. 3, 2024, said, “Without strong collaboration and planning between peacebuilders, civil society, technology companies, and governments, the fallout from unmanaged technology use around the elections will be far-reaching, from an increasing inability to discern fact from fiction to distrust in democratic political processes.”

It added that AI would play a role in the political exercises as companies build software to “hold conversations with voters and answer questions about a candidate.”

In the barangay elections in the Philippines last year, there were attempts to use AI to create spaces for candidates and voters to interact. Still, these were minimal as the positions were local and the constituencies small and disparate. Imagine how AI would be used in next year’s polls with voters running to the hundreds of thousands or millions in congressional districts, provinces and cities.

The potential to bring candidates closer to the voters with the use of technologies is there but so, too, is the possibility of misuse of these tools to manipulate election results or to undermine democratic processes.

Another report titled “Elections and Disinformation Are Colliding Like Never Before in 2024” published by The New York Times last Jan. 9 pointed to how the major elections this year will have billions of people, representing about half of the global population, casting votes in what will be “one of the largest and most consequential democratic exercises in living memory,” and the results will affect how the world is run for decades to come.

“At the same time, false narratives and conspiracy theories have evolved into an increasingly global menace,” it added.

The report cited disinformation campaigns in Taiwan which held elections for a new president yesterday, Jan. 13, and Pakistan and Indonesia which will hold elections a week apart in February. In these countries, they tried to balance freedom of speech with efforts to combat disinformation, the report said.

It also saw foreign interference in the conduct of the polls, saying that if efforts led by Russia and China to sponsor disinformation campaigns were to succeed, “the elections could accelerate the recent rise in authoritarian-minded leaders.”

The Philippines could be better prepared and positioned for the 2025 mid-term elections if it learned from exercises in other countries this year.

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