By Deepak Joshi Pokhrel
At present, there is only one topic of discussion where ever one goes. The issue of discussion is the election and which party will form the next government. The question that is being tossed around is the ever-increasing disinformation and its influence in the election, especially in a country like ours which is still in labour pain struggling to give political stability. Their concern is justifiable as disinformation and its influence in the election can put our hard-won democracy at risk.
Disinformation is the dissemination of false information deliberately to deceive people while misinformation is the dissemination of false information it is not deliberate. In plain words, misinformation is misleading, inaccurate or completely false information that is communicated without the explicit intent to deceive. Nevertheless, it is intended to be perceived as serious, factual information by the audience. Those who share disinformation, however, do intend to cause harm, and very often their messages can constitute slander or hate speech against certain people or groups of people. Author Toba Beta once wrote, “Disinformation is duping. Misinformation is tricking. While both pose certain risks to our rights and democracy, disinformation is more dangerous to our rights and democracy.
In less than a month, we will have a provincial and federal election. The upcoming election will give fresh oxygen to democracy. Further, it validates that the people are the sovereign power. But with the emergence of social media and other internet outlets in the recent past, disinformation is rife influencing the outcome of the election.
The proliferation of social media is perhaps the most defining characteristic of the digital era. Social media and other internet outlets have become the easiest mode of communication in the recent past. Known as the new media, social media has become a powerful means of connectivity among people, and every sphere of human activity has come under its impact. But at the same time, it has offered the space for people to disseminate unregulated disinformation.
Along with other sectors, the political domain has also been largely influenced by social media. Political parties and their leaders have found social networking sites (SNS) as an effective tool to inform, express and propagate their views and agenda among the masses. They have become viable platforms to vigorously launch new and radical ideas and draw feedback from the public while allowing diverse voices to be heard across the political spectrum.
No doubt, the social networking site has contributed to expanding democratic space with the increased participation of people in democratic dialogue. Likewise, it has also helped to reach out to a wider audience raising the collective voice against the malpractices. However, there would be few persons who would disagree that it has not posed a threat to democracy. They argue that social sites are prone to aggressive, emotionally charged and conflict-ridden content which can mislead people. Their strength to propagate and spread false, fake and damaging information harming people or groups of people has become a grave issue of concern, especially when we are holding polls in less than a month.
Our political actors do not miss any opportunity to upload major events on their social media accounts to their advantage. Whether party convention or election, our leaders post the event with a diabolic agenda. Former American President Donald Trump is reported to be the best example among contemporary leaders in channelizing social networking sites to rally in elections.
Disinformation can influence people, especially in a country like ours where the great majority of them are ignorant and less aware. The political opponent through social media networking site and other internet outlets disseminate false information in a deliberate attempt to deceive people. They would not deterring to upload information that can change the perception of the people ending up electing the wrong person. We do not need a rocket scientist to understand what happens thereafter.
While the disinformation campaign is being carried out throughout the year, they are very active right before the election. They often create confusion and mislead people who easily fall prey to such unethical and immoral activities. It is reported that during Mexico’s 2021 election disinformation was spread through social networks in a bitter and polarised campaign. Likewise, there was evidence of organised trolls spreading insults and attacks against candidates and a rise in fake news stories about the election.
These unethical and immoral tactics are not just limited to an underdeveloped country like ours. Even developed countries have fallen prey to disinformation. The European Parliament said the “most systemic threats to political processes and human rights arise from organised attempts to run coordinated campaigns across multiple social media platforms”. A 2019 report discovered evidence of organised social media manipulation campaigns in 70 different countries, employing armies of “cyber troops” to influence public opinion on various issues, and create political chaos.
Through disinformation, the abuser disseminates the information saying that the just concluded election was hijacked and it was not fair. Even worse, they question the legitimacy and credibility of concerned authorities. Such practice not only lays the ground for the loser to question the result but also undermines belief in public institutions that are essential to democratic governance.
With the election scheduled for November 20, the concerned authorities must be having a sleepless night. There will be enormous pressure on them to ensure that no unethical and immoral practices hijacked the essence of democracy. Their role to ensure a free and fair election is greater than ever as a new threat called “disinformation” could eclipse their efforts and resource.
We hope that the Election Commission entrusted with the gargantuan task of holding the elections in a free and fair atmosphere embraces all measures to combat disinformation defending and strengthen democracy.