Running a Research Fellowship Program with Dubawa on Misinformation/Disinformation and its influence on Voters’ Electoral Decision has been both interesting and revealing. In the course of the research, the literature review section unearthed that the spread of misinformation to gain votes, popularity, and acceptance is not peculiar to the Nigerian electoral process alone but a global phenomenon with each, a distinct narrative.
In fact, the World 2019 electoral integrity report revealed that the quality of media campaigns is challenged by the influx of misinformation and disinformation. Further, emphasizing that Information disorder is now growing into a global phenomenon. Revealingly, the document cited an intelligence report of how misinformation from Russia meddled with the 2016 US elections and how foreign influenced-misinformation also interfered with the Brexit referendum campaign in Europe.
While reviewing literature for this research, I read several articles online, international observation reports, and fact check copies on elections conducted in Israel, Korea, Singapore, Myanmar, Ecuador, Dutch, Iran, Iraq, America, Nigeria, and Taiwan. In all, these countries had experienced one form of electoral Dis/misinformation or incident.
DIS/MISINFORMATION: HIGHLIGHTING THE EXPERIENCE OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Takashi Imamuna, the Washington DC General Manager of Marubeni Group Magazine, published in its January 2017 edition a shooting incident that occurred at a pizza shop on Sunday, December 4, 2016, in Northwest Washington DC. A month before the shooting incident, there were false tweets hashtag “#pizzagate” claiming that the pizza shop was a pedophile sex ring involving Democratic Presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s announcement to resume an investigation into the issue of the use of private e-mail by Hillary Clinton during her tenure as Secretary of State and the large volume of tweets that followed the announcement stating that newly discovered emails related to a pedophile sex ring linked to Mr. John Podesta, the head of the Clinton campaign, escalated the email controversy. And this culminated in the appearance of the 28-year-old man b
This story by Marubeni Group Magazine is one of the nineteen real events caused by fake news in the United States of America.
The 2020 US election was the subject of hundreds of false and misleading claims in the build-up to the 2020 election. Samantha et al observed that “Misinformation centered on mail-in-voting: the destruction and discarding of real ballots and the discovery of fake ones. Such misinformation typically took the form of misleading photos or de-contextualized video clips of crumpled mail allegedly found in dumpsters or abandoned trucks” (2021, p. 49).
Noteworthy of the American election experience is the process by which votes were cast in the 2020 election which was significantly influenced by the global COVID-19 pandemic, a situation also commented on by Samantha et al: “By September, nearly 200,000 Americans had already died from COVID-19. In order to prevent COVID-19 transmission at crowded polling places and to accommodate citizens who preferred not to come to the polls, a number of states opted to expand the qualifications for absentee ballots or to alter the vote-by-mail process. For example, dozens of states significantly increased the use of ballot drop boxes” (2021, p. 51).
Additional US misinformation cases
Dungan (2020) narrated how in early September, a salon worker in Glendale, California, found multiple bags of unopened mails in a dumpster and took video footage with her cell phone even though there was no evidence that any ballots were among the discarded mails. Samantha et al further remarked that: “Politically motivated actors began using the above techniques of falsely assigning intent, exaggerating impact, and strategic amplification to falsely frame this situation in such a way as to undermine trust in mail-in voting” (2021, p. 54).
In late September, another incident of discarded mail in Greenville, Wisconsin was used to sow doubt in mail-in voting. “However, as in Glendale, California, strategic partisan actors distorted the significance of this event, through selective amplification, exaggerating impact, and falsely assigning deliberate intent to purported Biden-supporting USPS workers” (Samantha et al., 2021, p. 56).
Also, on September 25, according to the same authors, it was tweeted that over 1,000 ballots had been discovered in a dumpster in Sonoma, California. The tweet further sowed distrust in mail-in voting citing: “Elijah Schaffer, a conservative influencer and verified Twitter user, allegedly received photos of the mail-dumping incident. He posted the photos on Twitter, and other influencers ensured its rapid spread across conservative social media” (2021, p. 57).
These experiences not only aroused controversies but also heated doubts and issues around the electoral process.
TAIWAN’S MISINFORMATION EXPERIENCE
In Taiwan, another part of the world, Wang acknowledged and commented about election-related misinformation, saying: “Misinformation was rampant during Taiwan’s 2018 elections to the extent that Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau issued a report before the election, highlighting unequivocal evidence that the Chinese government was leveraging online content farms to stoke division in Taiwanese society. The Bureau cited data collected by a task force monitoring the spread of fake news and found several stories aiming to exacerbate hysteria and division in Taiwan. These stories included overblown accounts of live-fire People’s Liberation Army drills in the Taiwan Strait; a claim that China intended to reclaim Taiwan by 2020; and an article falsely suggesting that Taiwan’s bananas were riddled with pesticides” (2018, p. 68).
The most influential misinformation news item before the Taiwan 2018 local election was President Tsai’s Rainstorm incident: “The false version of the news before the 2018 election claimed that President Tsai Ing-wen rode military armored vehicle to visit victims in a huge rainstorm in August, 2018 commanded the soldiers to be armored to protect her safety, stood smilingly on the vehicle and did not step into the water to visit the victims whereas the correct version of the news was that the military vehicle was not armed with any weapon, Tsai stepped into the water in rainboots to visit the victims, smiling to residents who waved to her” (Wang, 2018, p. 94).
Another prominent misinformation news before the 2018 election was the Kansai International Airport evacuation incident during Typhoon Jebi in October 2018, about which Wang said Kansai narrative claimed Taiwanese travelers who identified themselves as Chinese were allowed to get on the evacuation bus when China’s consulate in Osaka was evacuating Chinese citizens from the airport while Taiwan’s representative office in Osaka did not provide any help to Taiwan’s traveling citizens: “The truth was no evacuation buses were allowed to enter the airport pick-up area. The buses sent by the Chinese Consulate picked people up from Izumisano, which was 11.6 km from the airport.” (Wang, 2018, p. 94).
Wang further stressed other misinformation incidents like the Weeping Northern Floating Youth, a cabbage farmer named Wax Brother who knelt and wailed in front of Han Gao Yu in a rally, and Li Ronggui’s account of the Taiping Island incidents which proved that spread of misinformation in that part of the world is a phenomenon.
ISRAEL MISINFORMATION EXPERIENCE
On misinformation narratives in Israeli national election, Barel, O. (2021) wrote, “The fierce political competition, which requires politicians to sharpen their positions and slander their rivals, inflames passion and makes the political discourse between supporters and opponents particularly contentious.” (Barel, 2021, p. 49).
Israeli influential misinformation incident was the claim by right-wing Im Tirtzus’ organization that the oversight app used by election transparency observers is not functioning. This claim was debunked by the Israeli Central Election Working Committee. However, Landau in her article “How a Netanyahu-Likud is importing Trump’s ‘Stolen Election Campaign” revealed that Im Tirtzu has ties to the Likud Party.
SOUTH KOREA MISINFORMATION EXPERIENCE
In analyzing the South Korean 2017 Presidential Election experience, Seon–gyn Go of the Naseda University and Mi–ran Lee of the Global Research Network, in a research conducted for Asian Journal for Public Opinion (2020) wrote, “The writers of fake news during the Korean presidential Election often create and distribute fake news as a means to tie together people who are close.” Their research further revealed that Hong Joon-pyo, the candidate from Liberty Korea Party, lied the most among the presidential candidates because 31 of the 47 statements he made were rated false or almost false.
IRAQ’S MISINFORMATION EXPERIENCE
Aws al-Saadi, the founder of Tech 4Peace Collective, on France24 issued on 28/05/2021 at 04:30 GMT said, “Iraq has become a virtual battleground for fake news both in politics and between major international players vying for influence in the tinderbox country.” His statement was further confirmed to be true by UN envoy, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, who said, “Media outlets and social networks in Iraq were spreading misinformation and even conspiracy theories that create false but accepted perceptions about October 10th parliamentary votes.”
IRAN’S MISINFORMATION EXPERIENCE
Iran, a neighboring country of Iraq, had its fair share of electoral misinformation campaigns. Reality Check and BBC Monitoring (16 June) explained in its article, “Iran’s presidential election: Four claims fact-checked include” that Abdolnaser Hemmati, a former Central Bank governor and Mohsen Mehralizadeh a former vice president claimed that Mr. Raisi had added to the extensive list of blocked websites and social media apps and still targets more newspapers and journalists. But Mr. Raisi debunked the claims stating that no website or newspaper had been blocked or shut down since he became judiciary chief, in March 2019.
NIGERIA’S MISINFORMATION EXPERIENCE
The scramble for votes and acceptability by party presidential candidates in Nigeria’s 2019 election witnessed the use of online social platforms in a distorting way–campaigning without transparency, creating false impression of mass support. For instance, actors including those affiliated with the two major parties—Peoples Democratic Party and All Progressives Congress posted and distributed false information online which includes the use of paid advertising online to gain votes.
The International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute in its Nigeria International Election Observation Report of June 2019 observed that social media profiles of legitimate Civil Society Organizations, observation groups, and media outlets were cloned or hacked and were used to spread misinformation to the public.
In her article “Analysis: How Nigerian politicians, supporters use fake news as campaign strategy” published as a headline news by premiumtimesng.com on February 10, 2019. Queen Esther Iroanusi highlighted the underlisted misinformation instances.
One influential misinformation incident she wrote about was a tweet before the 2019 election of a Campaign organization’s spokesman who tweeted a picture of a tree grown in a rail track to discredit past administrations. A fact check run later showed that the picture was from far away Middle East.
To further prove misinformation incidents in the pre-2019 presidential election in Nigeria, she cited the story of a Special Adviser to a state official in her bid to gain popularity and votes for her party, tweeting a picture of food packs with N500 notes attached to each of them before the election, claiming that the picture is from campaign rally of an opposition presidential candidate. When a check was run, it was discovered that the picture was a foundation philanthropic gesture to the less privileged in Lagos which had been online since February 2017.
Pictures were also manipulated to carry false impressions of international support in favour of political candidates. Queen Esther Iroanusi in her article also cited how the picture of US President Donald Trump was posted to suggest Trump’s endorsement of an opposition candidate for the Nigeria 2019 election. A check on the picture shows that it was fabricated. The original picture was first used on September 3, 2015, when Trump was campaigning as Republican Presidential Candidate for the US presidential elections.
Other misinformation tweets and publications were reports that the incumbent President was dead, and a clone was running his office; video clips accusing the opposition presidential candidate of brokering a deal with Boko Haram members in exchange for land and oil were also circulated and many other narratives.
Bandel, N. (2019) Israel Election Panel: Likud-linked NGO Spreading Fake News About Poll Oversight. Retrieved August 27, 2021 from https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/elections/.premium-israel-election-panel-right-wing-ngo-spreading-fake-news-about-poll-oversight-1.9646318
Barel, O. (2021) Why Are Israeli Elections Extremely Sensitive to Fake News?
Retrieved August 27, 2021 from
Bradner, E. (2016, October 28) Hillary Clinton’s email Controversy, Explained. Retrieved August 19, 2021, from https://edition.cnn.com/2015/09/03/politics/hillary-clinton-email-controversy-explained-2016/index.html
Comey, J. (2016, October28)Full Text: FBI Letter Announcing New Clinton Review. Retrieved August 19, 2021, from https://www.politico.com/story/2016/10/full-text-fbi-letter-announcing-new-clinton-review-230463
Dungan, K. (2020) California Mail Dumb in a Salon Parking Lot Caught on Surveillance Video. Retrieved August 19, 2021, from https://www.kiro7.com/news/trending/california-mail-dump-salon-parking-lot-caught-surveillance-video/GBASQBJ3UFHDRAIMKZZSHTJYZM/
European Commission. March 2018. Final report of the High Level Expert Group on Fake News and Online Disinformation. Brussels: EC. https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/news/final-report-high-level-expertgroup-fake-news-and-online-disinformation
Imamaru, T. (2017, January). A Tweeted lie Triggers an Incident (2017, January). Retrieved August 2, 2021, from https://www.marubeni.com/en/research/potomac/backnumber/19.html
Iran’s Presidential Election: Four Claims Fact Checked (2021, June 16) https://www.bbc.com/news/57485108
Iroanusi, Q. E. “ANALYSIS: How Nigerian politicians, supporters use fake news as campaign strategy” https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/headlines/311532-analysis-how-nigerian-politicians-supporters-use-fake-news-as-campaign-strategy.html
Mi-ran, (2020) & Seon-gyu, (2020) Analysis of Fake News in the 2017 Korean Presidential Election. Retrieved August 15, 2021, from https://www.koreanscience.or.kr/article/jako202022449681023.pdf
Misinformation Thrives in Iraq’s Virtual Battlegrounds (28/05/2021-04:30) Retrieved August 15, 2021, from https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210528-misinformation-thrives-in-iraq-s-virtual-battlegrounds
Reinl, J. (2021, August 25) Fake News Problematic as Iraqis Prepare for Major Vote. Retrieved August 15, 2021, from https://www.thenationalnews.com/world/us-news/2021/08/25/fake-news-problematic-as-iraqis-prepare-for-major-vote/
Samantha et al., (2021) The Long Fuse: Misinformation and the 2020 Election. Retrieved August 15, 2021, from https://stacks.stanford.edu/file/druid:tr171zs0069/EIP-Final-Report.pdf
Wang, T. (2018) Does Fake News Matter to Election Outcomes? Retrieved August 2, 2021, from https://www.ajpor.org/article/12985-does-fake-news-matter-to-election-outcomes-the-case-study-of-taiwan-s-2018-local-elections