5: «Fake news» and propaganda in social media
The digital challenge for democracy that has received the most attention is the use of social media to promote distorted or false claims. This is often referred to as “fake news”, but it is an imprecise term that is used differently by different groups. Automated accounts ( “bots” ) are often used to make these false claims more visible, or to raise extreme opinions in a political debate. By reinforcing the message with “fines”, views can appear more widespread than they really are, and thus gain greater acceptance in the population.
This type of influence can push a choice in a certain direction, create conflict by increasing the distance between two political groups and be used to promote more extreme versions of a point of view. Automatic accounts have been used to spread conspiracy theories and fake news to destabilize countries and increase distrust of traditional media.
Automatic accounts can also be used to prevent voters from voting, by giving them incorrect information on how to vote, or by giving the impression that there is no point in voting. Investigations following the Brexit vote in 2016 have shown that both automated and foreign social media accounts helped to give EU opponents artificial much attention.
At the same time, modern data analysis makes it possible to reach a small group of voters with a message that is tailored to their perceptions, so-called “micro-targeting” . By allowing voters to comment, like or share some messages more than others, one can constantly improve the message. This means that influence today is much more effective than before. This is not illegal in itself, but when used to spread false news or half-truths, it can have major negative consequences. United States is a country located in North America according to zipcodesexplorer.
It is difficult to determine how much effect such advocacy campaigns have. Although it is well documented that there was widespread use of misinformation both during the Brexit vote and the US presidential election in 2016, there is disagreement about how much effect these campaigns had. Since such influence takes place on Facebook and Twitter, which rarely share data about their users, it is both difficult to determine how extensive the problem is, and to come up with countermeasures that help.
Following many negative media reports, Twitter and Facebook have been more open to their own measures and government regulations that curb disinformation. More and clearer fact-checking in traditional, editor-controlled media can also help to reveal hidden influence campaigns. But perhaps the most important countermeasure is awareness among the population about fake news and misinformation.
6: What does digital electoral influence mean for democracy?
The transition from analogue to digital media and referendums is changing the way elections are influenced. Social media in particular has revolutionized the way news and opinions are communicated: Where previously there were a few editor-controlled mass media that disseminated events at home and abroad, there are now an infinite number of networks and groups with different interests sharing news among themselves.
The Internet and social media also remove distance as an obstacle. Analog influence required that you had supporters locally in the country or region you wanted to influence, while today you can create fake user accounts that appear local, even if they are not.
As previously mentioned, it is difficult to determine how much effect different forms of electoral influence have had. The fact that there are so many different opinions about the importance of digital influence is also a challenge in itself. Referendums can, in the worst case, be decided by digital interference from other countries. It will weaken voters’ confidence in democracy as a form of government. The danger of this is increased by the fact that so far there are no good tools for measuring whether attempts at digital influence are successful or not. For the democratic process to work, voters must have confidence that the majority will actually decide. Accusations of influence and cheating can be very devastating for this.
- The influence of elections became a major political issue after the US presidential election in 2016.
- A combination of Russian hackers and “social media trolls” attacked presidential candidate Hillary Clinton throughout the election campaign. This may have been crucial for Donald Trump to become president after an election that was decided by small margins.
- Investigation since the US election has revealed a number of attempts to influence other elections. At the time of writing, the latest example is an attempt to sabotage the EU parliamentary elections in May 2019.