Information and election are intertwined; little wonder misinformation and disinformation thrive during elections.
During election cycles, there is a high need for information and the desire to be the first informant, whether the information is true, false, or misleading.
Information–verified or unverified– shared before, during and after the election shapes narratives and guides the decision of voters. This makes the verification role of the media during election cycles imperative.
Reviewing quick checks from past elections with the upcoming polls in view, this article highlights common types of misinformation and disinformation we could see in the forthcoming general elections.
- Candidates stepping down
Mostly experienced a day before the election or in the early hours of the election day, rumours that a candidate or party has stepped down for another are expected. This has been the case in previous elections like the Osun State governorship election, where it was said that the candidate of the Labour Party, Lasun Yusuf, stepped down for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Ademola Adeleke.
This was also seen in the Ekiti State governorship election, where the Social Democratic Party (SDP) candidate, Segun Oni, was rumoured to have withdrawn from the race.
This was no different from the Anambra governorship election, where it was said that the governorship candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC), Chidozie Nwankwo, stepped down. All of these assertions turned out to be false.
- Press releases or statements accredited to authorities, candidates or political parties.
Manipulated press releases or statements with several narratives will be accredited to the election regulatory body, political parties, or candidates before, during, and after the election.
Such release includes reports that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has extended the voter registration period to reports that it has declared the election inconclusive.
- Change in the election date
The unfortunate postponement of the last general election in 2019 could be a risk area for misinformation to spread. Most times, information or content from previous elections are manipulated and used in current elections to cause confusion.
In the last Osun governorship election, clips declaring the 2018 election inconclusive were used. This is just an example of how information from true events in the past can be reused to spread false information.
- Rumours of violence at polling units
While sometimes rumours of violence at polling units are true, at other times, it is just a ploy to discourage voters from coming out to exercise their rights or to instigate others to violence.
In Anambra, it was rumoured that “unidentified armed men” invaded a polling unit attacking party agents and electoral officers while they made away with election materials. This was false, but it made some electorates scared of coming out to exercise their rights.
- Rumour of BVAS malfunctioning
The Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) is an electronic device that reads Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs). This is to authenticate voters’ fingerprints to ensure that they are eligible to vote at a particular polling unit.
Although this has been welcomed as a good development in previous elections, many have raised concerns about the use of the machine and its success rate.
However, political parties and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) believe this is just a ploy to create a confidence crisis around the use of the machine, so its service can be scrapped.
- Fake results before the end of polls
Fake results making the rounds on election day constitute one type of misinformation/disinformation that usually appears on election day. Whether people share such misinformation out of excitement or to cause confusion is unknown, but this is a recurring area for misinformation. In the last Osun State governorship election, there were claims the PDP had won the election while collation was still ongoing.
In Anambra, it was rumoured that the All Progressives Congress (APC) was in the lead, whereas the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) was winning.
- The “Breaking News” tag
Several social media users, blogs, and websites may abuse the “breaking news” tag on election day, even with unverified information, to get traffic. It is, therefore, important that the public is wary of this tag to avoid being misled.
- Extension of voting time
Although sometimes voting time is extended for some polling units or areas due to challenges, this narrative can be manipulated on election day to mislead the public.