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Disinformation significantly enhanced during election campaigns

Jan Cingel shared an interesting example from Slovakia who said that before the elections in his country, an audio recording generated by AI appeared with the voice of a very well-known Slovakian investigative journalist, supposedly, talking to the leader of the Progressive party

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“Democracy at Risk: Elections in the Age of Disinformation” was the title of the second session of the regional conference of the Anti-disinformation Network for the Balkans on the occasion of marking International Fact-Checking Day. Activists and journalists from the region shared experiences related to disinformation, with a special focus on the pre-election period.

Vladimir Erceg from the Centre for Research Transparency and Accountability (CRTA) in Serbia talked about the elections that took place last January in this country.

“We had elections in January, and we will have elections in June. We are always on the alert about the use of disinformation in election campaigns. Since 2016, CRTA has been monitoring the regularity of the election process. Regarding the early Parliamentary Elections, CRTA discovered that the elections were not free and fair, and they did not reflect the will of the citizens. “We identified 13 percent irregularities in Belgrade. Functionaries of the ruling party displayed foul play”, said Erceg.

Ismar Milak from the Bosnian organization “Why Not?” said that during the pre-election period, new portals appeared only to close down immediately after the elections.

“There is terrible disinformation in Bosnia and Herzegovina every day. Every second year we have elections. We have party bots on social networks trying to present a specific party as an excellent choice. We have examples of election candidates being presented in a journalistic show enabling him/her to talk without a dash of criticism which looks more like his/her promotion. We have about 200 registered portals. They open before the elections and close after the elections. The portals criticize, speculate, and disinform. Legal amendments are undertaken so that this can be regulated”, he stressed.

Jan Cingel shared an interesting example from Slovakia who explained that before the elections in his country, an audio recording generated by AI appeared with the voice of a very well-known investigative journalist from Slovakia supposedly talking with the leader of the Progressive party.

“The conversation was about how to buy Roma votes in Slovakia. It was quite serious. This narrative survived the entire election campaign and that was their trump card. Fortunately, it turned out that the video was generated with AI”, said Cingel.

The fact that portals spread disinformation was also stressed by Marko Vukajlovic from the Montenegrin Centre for Democratic Transition” (CDT), who said that nevertheless, the biggest problem was the social networks due to the fact that anyone can say anything and be followed by many people.

“That is the battle we are fighting every day”, he said.

Jakub Kalensky from the Finnish European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats talked about the disinformation campaigns and the successful Russian fakes. The good news was, according to him, that fortunately the problem was better recognized in recent years and journalists and researchers from civil society discovered disinformation.

“But the bad news is that we are not doing enough to prevent the Kremlin and we see that on the ground. The advancement is slow and insufficient, and that is not preventive enough seen from a military and information point of view. The same is true in the information domain, with the current trajectory, Russia is winning. We can see the disinformation campaigns, and those supported by the Russian campaigns seem to be winning elections. We have no use talking about electoral disinformation. Elon Musk and Pope Francis enable Russian propaganda to spread, and the polls say that a large percentage of the people trust them. Russian disinformation is successful regardless of the fact that the number of people detecting disinformation is increasing”, said Kalensky, stressing that a sustainable and clear strategy for countering disinformation is missing.

Svetlana Siljanovska from the Government of the RNM also addressed the public by outlining that the Government, civil society organizations, and the media needed to jointly tackle and oppose the organized structure on the other side.

“What is obvious in every election process up to date is the pre-election tension that is usually interethnic. That also is part of the hybrid actions that have an impact on the overall atmosphere. All disinformation can confuse citizens and therefore joint approach and action are the most important”, she said.

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