Deploy fact-checkers to deal with electoral misinformation

BY: Edward Acquah
• Mr Francis Oke, Head, Electoral Assistance Division of ECOWAS, delivering the keynote address.
• Mr Francis Oke, Head, Electoral Assistance Division of ECOWAS, delivering the keynote address.

The Head of the Electoral Assistance Division of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Mr Francis Gabriel Oke, has urged electoral observer groups to deploy fact-checkers as part of their election observation whose job will be to verify the veracity of any information circulated on social media by political actors.

While urging the groups to step up advocacy against the phenomenon, he also encouraged civil society organisations (CSOs) to lobby Parliament to pass laws that would effectively punish those who engage in "spreading electoral misinformation."

He said with Africa having a youthful population, which translated into an electorate dominated by young people, social media would continuously provide fertile ground for perpetrators of misinformation.

“Election observer groups have to make reporting cases of misinformation a central part of their election assessment methodology. This means that the prevalence of misinformation should be given greater weight in determination of the extent to which an electoral process is adjudged credible or not," Mr Oke said.

Forum

Mr Oke said this at a forum to discuss electoral misinformation and the "increasing litigation of election outcomes" in Accra yesterday.

Organised by the West African Election Observers Network (WAEON), the workshop provided a platform for participants to share their experiences, concerns and suggestions on ways to mitigate electoral misinformation through electoral observation among other pressing challenges.

The forum also sought to explore avenues for election observers and civil society to mitigate the negative risks electoral litigation poses on electoral credibility.

Scope

He entreated election observer groups to also incorporate electoral misinformation in their scope of work and make it a key component in assessing the credibility of elections.

Mr Oke, who is also the Permanent Secretary of the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC), observed that some political actors and politicians deliberately used social media to spread false information usually against their opponents with the aim of misleading the electorate to buy into their political messages.

Expressing concern about the pervasiveness of the phenomenon in West Africa, he cautioned that the issue of misinformation, if unchecked, could fuel electoral violence, undermine democracy and discourage people from participating in elections.

Electoral disputes

The Chairperson of the WAEON, Mr James Lahai, said although arbitrating electoral disputes was appropriate, the organisation was concerned about the adverse effects of prolific litigation on electoral democracy.

He expressed concern that some judges were not knowledgeable about electoral affairs and thereby delivered verdicts that did not promote electoral democracy and fairness.

"In Sierra Leone, for instance, 10 Members of Parliament lost their seats through petition. Instead of the court ordering a bye-election, it rather ruled that the candidates who came second in the election should take over the seats and in most cases, the gap between the two candidates was very huge," he said.

For his part, the Director for Advocacy and Policy Engagement at the Centre for Democratic Development Ghana, Dr Kojo Asante, who is also the Project Manager and Head of WAEON Secretariat, urged election observer groups to “rise to the occasion and prepare themselves to counter the challenges of new technology and new media.”

The Head of the Electoral Assistance Division of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Mr Francis Gabriel Oke, has urged electoral observer groups to deploy fact-checkers as part of their election observation whose job will be to verify the veracity of any information circulated on social media by political actors.

While urging the groups to step up advocacy against the phenomenon, he also encouraged civil society organisations (CSOs) to lobby Parliament to pass laws that would effectively punish those who engage in "spreading electoral misinformation."

He said with Africa having a youthful population, which translated into an electorate dominated by young people, social media would continuously provide fertile ground for perpetrators of misinformation.

“Election observer groups have to make reporting cases of misinformation a central part of their election assessment methodology. This means that the prevalence of misinformation should be given greater weight in determination of the extent to which an electoral process is adjudged credible or not," Mr Oke said.

Forum

Mr Oke said this at a forum to discuss electoral misinformation and the "increasing litigation of election outcomes" in Accra yesterday.

Organised by the West African Election Observers Network (WAEON), the workshop provided a platform for participants to share their experiences, concerns and suggestions on ways to mitigate electoral misinformation through electoral observation among other pressing challenges.

The forum also sought to explore avenues for election observers and civil society to mitigate the negative risks electoral litigation poses on electoral credibility.

Scope

He entreated election observer groups to also incorporate electoral misinformation in their scope of work and make it a key component in assessing the credibility of elections.

Mr Oke, who is also the Permanent Secretary of the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC), observed that some political actors and politicians deliberately used social media to spread false information usually against their opponents with the aim of misleading the electorate to buy into their political messages.

Expressing concern about the pervasiveness of the phenomenon in West Africa, he cautioned that the issue of misinformation, if unchecked, could fuel electoral violence, undermine democracy and discourage people from participating in elections.

Electoral disputes

The Chairperson of the WAEON, Mr James Lahai, said although arbitrating electoral disputes was appropriate, the organisation was concerned about the adverse effects of prolific litigation on electoral democracy.

He expressed concern that some judges were not knowledgeable about electoral affairs and thereby delivered verdicts that did not promote electoral democracy and fairness.

"In Sierra Leone, for instance, 10 Members of Parliament lost their seats through petition. Instead of the court ordering a bye-election, it rather ruled that the candidates who came second in the election should take over the seats and in most cases, the gap between the two candidates was very huge," he said.

For his part, the Director for Advocacy and Policy Engagement at the Centre for Democratic Development Ghana, Dr Kojo Asante, who is also the Project Manager and Head of WAEON Secretariat, urged election observer groups to “rise to the occasion and prepare themselves to counter the challenges of new technology and new media.”