How technology can be misused during the year the world votes

Somehow, the elections of around 90 countries will occur in 2024. This number includes the likes of the UK, Russia, the US, and South Africa where citizen’s votes will be counted.

Locally, many call South Africa’s 2024 elections this generation’s 1994 following decades of corruption and maladministration by incumbent ruling party the ANC. As such, there is a lot at stake this year and sadly, that could lead to people taking desperate measures in order to cling on to power.

As the world moves to elect new leaders, it becomes vital for citizens to be aware of how the technology they use to find information about candidates and the like can also be used to sway opinions through targeted misinformation and disinformation campaigns, ultimately influencing votes.

This can be as simple as omitting information or as complex as vast influence campaigns where dummy and real accounts spread a message. As research has shown, repetition can have quite an effect on a person’s opinions.

In that regard, to help protect South African citizens from these campaigns, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) announced recently that it was working with big tech firms to safeguard the elections and undue influence of votes.

“The dissemination of disinformation has huge potential to undermine the fairness and credibility of elections. Credible information is the lifeblood of all democracies. Trustworthy information is crucial in the process that enables citizens to choose their leaders,” says IEC chairperson Mosotho Moepya.

As we saw with the elections that took place in the US in 2016, misinformation and disinformation spread online can influence the outcome of an election.

Folks must be aware of this and exercise increased skepticism during an election period. Rather than reading or following a small set of voices and news outlets, voters should seek to be as informed as possible and think twice before sharing news.

The Commission says it is working with Google, Meta and TikTok to safeguard local elections. In addition, Media Monitoring Africa will helping to spot and address misinformation during the elections.

During the elections, content reported to Media Monitoring Africa through its Real411 platform can be actioned by:

  • Referring the matter to the Electoral Court
  • Referring the matter to social media platforms to act upon in terms of their respective policies and undertakings
  • Issuing media statements to alert the public and correct the disinformation

“Real411 takes proactive measures against disinformation. Upon careful review of any reported complaint indicating disinformation or misinformation, the Commission promptly notifies the relevant online platform. The platform is expected to acknowledge and swiftly process the notification, ensuring a diligent response,” explains Media Monitoring Africa Director William Bird.

Meta, Google, and TikTok have all said they will work to ensure that users looking for information find it from trusted sources. All three have said they will work with the IEC to ensure the integrity of the 2024 election in South Africa.

Censorship by way of internet shutdowns

Internet access plays a massive role in elections and both leaders and bad actors are aware of this. Without access to timely, accurate information, bad actors can unduly influence votes and therefore the outcome of an election.

This year, the risk of internet shutdowns is higher than ever, according to Surfshark Research Hub, the research arm of the cybersecurity firm.

“Election season often brings a wave of internet shutdowns around the world. As we gear up for an election-packed 2024, our Research Hub has examined internet freedom in 196 countries. We’ve discovered that countries with a history of internet blackouts during elections score an average of just 32 out of 100 on the global freedom scale. As a reminder, this scale measures personal, civil, and economic freedoms. 32 is significantly below the worldwide average of 58. This suggests a strong connection between digital censorship and wider violations of freedom,” shares lead researcher at Surfshark, Agneska Sablovskaja.

The researchers report that since 2015, there have been 29 reported cases of election-related internet censorship in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is followed closely by countries in Southern Asia where 28 similar incidents have been reported since 2015.

Countries that are at risk of experiencing election-related internet censorship include Mali, Malawi, Chad, and Mauritania in Sub-Saharan Africa and India, Iran, Pakistan, and Bangladesh in Southern Asia.

Of course, cybercriminals for hire can also cause problems with connectivity. Through distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, an entire country can be brought offline.

This week Cloudflare reported that in 2023 it saw an 85 percent increase in network-layer DDoS attacks compared to 2022. This has the potential to ramp up as countries move into elections and bad actors seek to cause disruptions to the flow of information.

This year is going to be a rough one for all of us and we’d all do well to verify everything we hear before spreading it like it’s the truth.

[Image – John Mounsey from Pixabay]


About Author


Related News