After Trump, elections around the world plagued by untruths

From the United States to Brazil and Israel, voters around the world have been inundated with misinformation, though many have dismissed Donald Trump’s conspiratorial campaign tactics aimed at casting doubt on the electoral process.

A tsunami of untruths has swept through Twitter, Facebook, TikTok and YouTube – from fake photos intended to manipulate voters to so-called “deepfake” videos, or “hyperfaking”, an artificial intelligence technology that replaces one face with another . The platforms are accused of not doing enough to combat the threat.

Many U.S. candidates have borrowed Donald Trump’s anti-democratic tactics, such as unproven claims of voter fraud, but contrary to forecasts by Republicans, who expected a “red wave” in the midterm elections, most candidates knighted by the former president suffered bitter defeats.

Republican party leaders “seem to come to terms with the idea that embracing conspiracy theory has led to poor candidate choices, reduced voter turnout, sow distrust among voters, and many other ills,” Mike Caulfield, a researcher at the Center for an Informed Public at the University of Washington, told AFP.

“Many will now try to wean their supporters off conspiracy theories about voter fraud,” he adds.

In Brazil, where a runoff pitted incumbent Jair Bolsonaro against left-wing candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in late October, the election campaign has been laced with misinformation, with the far-right incumbent shouting like Donald Trump at voter fraud , without evidence.

It was ultimately Lula who won, with polls showing that the majority of Brazilian voters still trust electronic voting. But analysts have warned that the fight against disinformation is far from won in Brazil.

– “Misleading” speech –

In Israel, too, Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud began a “Stop the Fraud” campaign as soon as the election was announced. The accusations were relayed by the party and its supporters in order, according to analysts, to improve the chances of electoral victory.

“The Likud was peddling allegations that the ballot was rigged, that Israel’s election commission was controlled by the ‘deep state’,” the idea that senior officials secretly control the machinery of government, says Achiya Schatz, of the anti-disinformation group FakeReporter.

Likud and its right-wing allies won the majority of seats in parliament, paving the way for the return to power of Mr. Netanyahu, who did not contest the verdict at the polls.

Donald Trump’s shadow also hangs over Hungarian politics, where the former US president personally dubbed far-right Prime Minister Viktor Orban ahead of the misinformation-ridden April election.

Mr. Orban’s Fidesz party has “made the most of its control over the media to spread factually incorrect or misleading allegations and accusations against its opponents, almost without external control”, according to a study by the Hungarian research center Political Capital.

Just before the vote, Viktor Orban, who is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, claimed without proof that his rivals had ‘made a pact with the Ukrainians’ to offer them arms and help if they were elected . The Fidesz party won a landslide victory.

– An effective tool –

Around the world, misinformation tends to escalate around elections, which erodes public trust in democratic institutions and can lead to chaos, with some trying to manipulate the results.

In the Philippines, misinformation on social media reached “unprecedented” heights during the presidential election in May, notes Rachel Khan of the fact-checking network

Fact-checking surveys “have had very little impact”, regretted Rachel Khan, for whom “there is a problem of competence in the media. Even those who say they know how to recognize misinformation, in fact do not don’t know”.

In Kenya, presidential favorites William Ruto and Raila Odinga are accused of recruiting digital “fighters”. Election untruths began to spread nearly a year before last August’s election, including “deepfake” videos.

Kenya’s Supreme Court has upheld William Ruto’s election, but many Raila Odinga supporters still believe the ballot was rigged.

Elections are due next year in Nigeria and similar tactics are beginning to appear online.

In the United States, analysts warn that campaigns casting doubt on the integrity of the electoral process could start again with renewed vigor in the run-up to the 2024 election, especially after Donald Trump announced his candidacy.

For Pamela Smith, of the independent group Verified Voting, “disinformation remains an effective tool and those who only recognize the elections they win will continue to use it”.


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After Trump, elections around the world plagued by untruths

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