The danger and exponential impact of disinformation in electoral processes 


Fake_newsPhoto by: Robin Worral. Available in Unsplash

By Yolanda Del Castillo*

How many times our decision power has been influenced by a story which later turned out to be false? Or by a video or a meme that by just watching it has automatically made us doubt and even stop consuming our favorite brand for years? Surely this has also happened to us in the previous stage of some electoral process, where viral campaigns carried out in order to obtain or subtract votes may have significantly affected our decisions, including our perception of candidates or the electoral process itself.

Technological advances and excessive consumption of information through digital media have made elections a perfect space to disseminate false information and generate chaos, thus confusing millions of voters with erroneous information, discrediting political parties, candidates and media of communication and even making false preliminary results viral.

This is how our prejudices and doubts when sharing information remain in the hands of the strategists and executors of those disinformation campaigns, who strive to influence our behavior, reactions and even decisions when we choose a candidate and believe in the results.

Tracking and verifying information are not enough

Fake_News_Photo by: Bank Phrom. Available in Unsplash

In recent elections —in many countries— websites have been known that were presented as “information media”, but were dedicated only to publishing false information. Then, many of the social networks shared false information published by those websites, and made it viral, even relying on messaging systems such as Instant Messenger and even WhatsApp. Thus, many become multipliers of those disinformation campaigns —a term known as “fake news”— bringing with it serious consequences against the stability and credibility of electoral processes.

To fight against the propagation of false information that undermines electoral processes, smart monitoring strategies are constantly being sought and developed, based on the generation of truthful content using state-of-the-art software and working comprehensively with highly qualified human teams. Examples of this are tools to control spam, limit the number of resends, tag offenders, delete bogus accounts, and constant improvements and upgrades to various platforms seeking to protect information privacy.

What is the most important -and also most complex- thing to do is to halt in its tracks false information effectively and on time. For this purpose, it is advisable to have close alliances with the main social media platforms and cultivate a constant communication channel with recognized media and their teams of “fact checkers”. Unfortunately, the strategies and advances in which social media platforms currently work manage to reduce the spread of disinformation only by a small fraction. Although fake news items can be effectively detected, it is impossible to prevent them from reaching large audiences.

In addition to all these efforts, there are other factors that influence the capacity with which false information can be propagated, for example, age: due to the lack of skills and training in digital media, the tendency is for people over 65 to be much more likely to consume and share fake news through social networks and instant messaging platforms. Another factor that has some influence is the country where the electoral process takes place, as the penetration of social networks and instant messaging varies greatly from one country to another. In the Philippines, users spend more daily time on social networks, with an average of 241 minutes; and in Latin America the average daily time is 212 minutes. With such average times of social media use, users are likely to get fake information items daily.

The recommendation continues to be to always confirm the origin of any news before sharing it, verifying it at least in three reliable sources, even in the case of images and videos. You can also resort to well-known “fact-checkers”, which are media that have journalists dedicated exclusively to the verification of data for fact checking.

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* Yolanda Del Castillo

Digital Marketing Strategist and Business Transformation Consultant with over 23 years of experience creating and managing digital property for global brands.