Information is a major defining product or factor voters use in making decisions during elections. However, the rise of technology and the ability to rapidly share information through several mediums and platforms has propelled the issue of information disorder commonly referred to as ‘fake news’ to the forefront of global discussions.
Information disorder is generally seen as any form of misinformation or disinformation. Most scholars define misinformation as the unintentional sharing of false information with no intention to cause harm whereas disinformation constitutes the deliberate sharing of false information with the intention to cause harm (Karlova & Fisher, 2012; Wardle & Derakshan, 2017; Thorson & Sheble, 2017). According to Maweu (2019) “Whatever we call it, propaganda, disinformation and misinformation is as old as mankind and has only been systematically blown to almost uncontrollable levels by the advent of digital media” (p.63).
Social media has emerged as one of the central areas through which voters get information but has also been identified to be a perfect platform or breeding ground for misinformation or disinformation and conspiracy narratives. Social media platforms and the many online platforms have presented voters with the challenge of encountering an enormous amount of information online, including false information. According to Chakrabarti (2018), the effects of information disorder are heightened especially because of the power of social media. The way this works is that ordinary citizens can now be part of the mass media space by sharing news immediately, journalists also tend to use the social media space as a sourcing mechanism to dig for news. The problem that this creates is that it hampers people’s ability to discern truth and make discerning decisions on critical issues including on voting decisions.
The period before, during and after elections appear to be periods usually characterised by the rise in misinformation and disinformation particularly about candidates and policies, thus posing a major developmental challenge as a result of its potential to affect the credibility of elections and the sanctity of the competitive nature of elections as some parties seek to gain undue advantage.
The 2020 elections in Ghana were unique in more than one way. It was the first time that a one-term president (former president John Mahama of the National Democratic Congress, NDC) was seeking to come back to office. Also, the incumbent president Nana Akufo-Addo (of the New Patriotic Party, NPP) was seeking re-election but it was his second time facing the opposition candidate John Dramani Mahama in an electoral contest. The historical nature of the elections heightened the stakes thereby providing the fertile ground for a possible trend or propagation of information disorder.
As Ghana moves to consolidate its democracy, research involving information disorder is necessary to attempt to address the ways in which the public sphere is polluted particularly during elections. There is no doubt that if this is not addressed it has the potential to mar the democratic record of Ghana. Though the notion of information disorder is not new as observed by Maweu (2019), it’s current upsurge and lack of systematic research in this area makes this study significant. This report comprehensively analyses information disorder in Ghana before, during and after the 2020 elections.