From political propaganda to misleading health advice, the spread of false information can have far-reaching consequences, undermining trust in institutions, influencing public opinion, and even jeopardising lives.

This is especially true in 2024, a year when the outcome of pending events such as the EU Parliamentary elections in June and the United States presidential election in November will influence not only people living in these countries but also those living in areas with ongoing conflicts.

With AI becoming more accessible and sophisticated, we are facing unprecedented challenges in ensuring ethical use, accountability, and transparency in its deployment across various sectors of society. The misuse of AI coupled with the weaponization of social media can help political actors or foreign entities gain a strategic advantage, undermine opponents, or suppress voter turnout.

Before we dive into ways that disinformation in 2024 can have a detrimental impact both on a local and international level, let us clarify why the aforementioned elections are of such paramount importance.

EU Parliamentary Elections 

The EU Parliamentary Elections, scheduled for 6-9 June 2024, are a crucial event in the European Union’s democratic process. Citizens across the European Union will vote for a new European Parliament. The election results will lead to the appointment of a new European Commission for the next five years. 

The Parliament serves as the legislative branch of the EU and plays a significant role in shaping policies that affect the lives of over 400 million citizens across the member states. The outcome of the EU Parliamentary Elections can influence the direction of the European Union and its policies, and impact global politics and international relations. 

The policies and decisions made by the European Parliament have far-reaching implications for trade agreements, diplomatic relations, and cooperation with countries around the world. Non-member states often closely observe the EU’s political dynamics and may adjust their strategies based on the election results. 

United States Presidential Election

The United States Presidential Election, held on November 4, 2024, stands as a cornerstone of American democracy. With millions of voters casting their ballots, the election determines the nation’s highest office and sets the course for domestic and foreign policy agendas. 

The outcome of the presidential election will not only shape the leadership and governance of the United States but also hold significant implications for global affairs, particularly in areas currently in conflict. The decisions made by the U.S. government have profound effects on international trade, security, and diplomacy, influencing the dynamics of ongoing conflicts and peace negotiations. Therefore, the results of the election can have a direct impact on the trajectory of conflicts worldwide.

Potential Avenues for Disinformation in 2024

Social media

Social media platforms, with their vast user base and algorithmic amplification, serve as fertile ground for the rapid spread of disinformation. The proliferation of fake accounts, automated bots, and coordinated disinformation campaigns further exacerbates the problem. Additionally, the encrypted nature of messaging apps provides a clandestine platform for the dissemination of false narratives.

Political Discourse

Election campaigns have always provided ripe soil for rumours, disinformation, and propaganda. Candidates often resort to distorted and manipulative statements to discredit their opponents, boost their image, and fire up their supporters. Such statements can then be amplified by the news media, which seeks to provide detailed coverage of the campaign while keeping readers and viewers engaged.

Today, journalists and the public have more and better tools to keep record of politicians’ claims and fact-check what they say. Paradoxically, disinformation produced on the campaign trail has surged as candidates keenly exploit voters’ dissatisfactions, prejudices, and fears.

Deepfakes and Synthetic Media

Advancements in artificial intelligence have made it easier than ever to create convincing fake audio and video content. Deepfake technology, which uses AI algorithms to manipulate images and videos, has the potential to deceive even the most discerning viewers. In 2024, we must remain vigilant against the spread of deepfakes, which could be used to impersonate public figures, spread false information, and incite social unrest.

The Paywall Paradox 

Paywalls were erected as an answer to the digitization of traditional media and the need to find new funding options for news media. As a result, fewer people nowadays have open access to critical news coverage online. The absence of free quality journalism creates a void, ready to be filled by disinformation and misinformation. There is no denying that supporting local news outlets is crucial for their work producing independent news. At the same time, local newsrooms should consider removing their paywalls for publications on the upcoming elections.

Potential Impact of Disinformation on Election Outcomes

False claims of voter fraud, smear campaigns targeting candidates, and the propagation of conspiracy theories are among the disinformation tactics that could poison the electoral discourse. Such tactics are used by domestic players and foreign entities alike, both seeking to influence election outcomes in their favour. Disinformation can manipulate voter perceptions, erode trust in democratic institutions, and even incite violence or civil unrest, thereby subverting the very essence of democracy.

Newly elected governing bodies, both national and international, could face crises of legitimacy from their very formation, which in turn could paralyse their decision-making and make them susceptible to further attacks. Most importantly, the divisions created by disinformation could take a long time to heal, while the distrust generated within societies and between voters and institutions could feed into an endless loop of rumours, myths, and conspiracies.

The harmful impact could be felt not just domestically but also internationally, with democracies struggling to find the will and consensus needed to mediate conflicts and support victims of aggression.

Strategies to Combat Disinformation

In the face of these challenges, combating disinformation requires a multi-faceted approach involving collaboration between governments, tech companies, media organisations, and civil society. Efforts to improve media literacy, enhance fact-checking capabilities, provide access to paywall-free quality journalism, and promote digital literacy are essential in empowering individuals to discern fact from fiction. Additionally, social media platforms must take proactive steps to identify and mitigate the spread of disinformation on their platforms, including implementing robust content moderation policies and investing in AI-driven detection technologies.

Next Steps? 

We at A Data Pro have been developing comprehensive methodological and technological solutions to the disinformation problem. More specifically, we see disinformation as a foundational aspect of hostile information operations.

We aim to propose effective methods for the detection, measurement, and analysis of such operations. By monitoring news media content and social media conversations, we can detect disinformation-based operations early on, identify the channels where they spread, and profile their techniques and messages, all in order to inform the formulation of more effective counter-measures. 

Contributing writers: 
Training Specialist Todor Kiriakov
Training Specialist Devora Kotseva
Communication Specialist Dilek Asanoska

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