On the Ground, Breaking New Ground: NDI and IWPR Fight Fake News in Malawi

Malawian journalists at the Malawi Institute of Journalism combating disinformation during the Malawi elections. 

The 2019 Presidential elections in Malawi were anticipated to be the closest elections in history for the country, and therefore, there was heightened interest, especially internationally. When an image of Tweet claiming to be from the President of the United States expressing his political preference for a particular Malawian presidential candidate was circulating, I knew the information environment was rapidly changing in Malawi. It was deep into campaign season in the southeastern African country of Malawi and a disturbing new trend emerged: digital disinformation. The constant, relentless false news stories were being spread via social media and across platforms like WhatsApp at an alarming rate. Though false news stories meant to deceive the electorate can be common around elections, especially around the electoral process and candidates, the excessive rate at which it was spreading in Malawi caught us all by surprise.

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What did the European Parliament elections reveal in Central Europe?

As four days of voting for the 2019 European Parliament (EP) elections closed on May 26, crowds await results from the European Union’s 28 member states and the new composition of the EP for the next five years.  CC-BY-4.0: © European Union 2019 – Source: EP

The European parliamentary elections, held in May, came at a time of political soul-searching for the countries of Central Europe – the so-called Visegrad group of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia – as they wrestle with European integration, constitutional democracy, and national identity. Though closely tied, the four countries are responding in different ways.

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Inside the Cueva: My Experience Observing El Salvador’s 2019 Presidential Election

Photo by Observador Electoral 2019. (from the Cueva)

My seatmate pulled out her phone the moment our packed plane touched down in El Salvador three days before the country’s February 3 presidential elections. She began furiously scrolling through her Facebook feed, her face lit up with campaign slogans, articles and the smiling faces of candidates Nayib Bukele, Carlos Calleja and Hugo Martinez. Peering over her shoulder, I watched as she punched out a comment lambasting corrupt status-quo politicians. “El Salvador doesn’t need another leader who steals from us,” she typed. “Bukele deserves a chance.” The goal of my trip to El Salvador was to assist our local partners with a USAID-funded election-day observation. NDI supported a consortium of Salvadoran universities and a civil society organization, together called Observador Electoral 2019, to recruit, train and deploy 850 Salvadoran election observers to monitor a statistically representative sample of 700 polling stations nationwide.

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Bicycles, Mangoes and Democracy

When we arrived in Jinja, a row of bicycles for rent were neatly lined up outside the partner organization’s office. We met inside, amidst bicycles in various states of repair, leaflets and posters on cycling and a stretcher designed to be hitched to bicycles. This all seemed a little incongruous, given a conversation about vote buying and selling. Eventually, I had to ask about the relationship between bicycles and vote buying.

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Making Democracy Popular: Corruption, Populism & Brazil

Brazilians take to the streets to protest rampant government corruption on March 13, 2016.  Photo by Agencia Brazil (CC BY 3.0 BR)

What do Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez have in common? They’ve all been branded as populists, both celebratorily and scathingly. As Brazil heads to elections on October 7, all eyes are on ultra-conservative candidate Jair Bolsonaro – who brazenly rejects political correctness, defends Brazil’s authoritarian past and promises to upend the establishment – as the latest in a line of political strongmen turning citizen malaise into electoral success. Charismatic populist leaders present society as divided into two separate and homogeneous entities: the corrupt elite, and the pure people who the corrupt have oppressed. Proclaiming their direct link to the people (often enabled by social networks), they tend to eschew representative institutions and checks and balances. While left-wing populists take a class-based approach pitting working and middle-class people against a greedy economic elite, right-wing populists typically define the people as an exclusive group along ethnic, racial or national lines.

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All for One: Building Information Integrity into Elections

Drawing by Jesper Frant

Elections are one of the most critical elements of any democratic system, but also one of the moments where democracy is most vulnerable. Politicians compete to take control of the executive, become representatives in legislatures and sometimes appoint judges across branches of government, and the information environment plays a crucial role in the debates that decide who will represent the will of the people. This environment is increasingly mediated by the internet, through social media platforms, messaging apps, email and a wealth of new tools and applications that come online every day. Unfortunately, this new online environment is also increasingly polluted by disinformation.

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Using Open Data to Verify Information in Elections

The Election Observation Group (ELOG) in Kenya used a unique data entry tool to match observer-captured images to official election documents

The August 2017 presidential election in Kenya was clouded by accusations of fraud and doubts about the accuracy of results posted on the Independent Elections and Boundary Committee (IEBC) website. Some groups alleged that information from the official polling-station-level presidential results forms (Form 34A) posted on the website may have been altered during the transmission of the forms from polling stations to the national level. The Kenyan Supreme Court’s ultimately annulled the August elections and called for a fresh presidential contest in October 2017. To promote accountability and transparency, NDI provided technical assistance to the Elections Observation Group (ELOG) to deploy 766 observers to polling stations across the country to systematically observe the fresh elections. Election observers were also instructed to take pictures of the completed Form 34As at their polling stations and send the images to the organization through designated WhatsApp numbers to verify the credibility of the data. Five-hundred and forty observers submitted clear photos of the Form 34As from the polling stations. With technical support from NDI, ELOG developed an online system to compare these forms with their official online counterpart.

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A View from Election Eve in Liberia: Behind the Scenes of an International Election Observation Mission

The author on Tubman Boulevard in Monrovia struggling to hear a call about logistics from fellow NDI staff while running other Election Day errands (photo credit: Madeline Wilson)

Two former presidents and a former foreign minister sat in a conference room while I searched for a hat. It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but it was the very real start to December 25, 2017, the eve of the Liberian presidential runoff.

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