Home / FT View Editorial/ Protecting free and fair elections

Protecting free and fair elections

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Thursday, 15 August 2019 00:00


Elections Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya has insisted he will take steps to engage with companies such as facebook to reduce mudslinging and misinformation campaigns that could be used to swing voters at an upcoming election. This is a positive step, albeit, one that will yield limited results as democracies around the world grapple with how to manage massive technology companies beyond their jurisdiction.  A free and fair election is one of the essential components of a democracy. For this to happen at a genuine level people have to be able to make up their minds as they wish after considering as much credible information as possible. But the rise of companies that use technology mined from digital media to persuade people, without them even knowing how they are being manipulated has become a serious concern. 

Many have heard of Cambridge Analytica, now defunct and how they worked to influence voters in the Brexit campaign. Before that they were instrumental in the election of Donald Trump to the White House. Cambridge Analytica in its heyday used to claim it could harness 5000 data points on each voter, which could be used to measure his or her personality and influence their behaviour. The company then sold their services to dozens of countries around the world including Malaysia, Trinidad and Tobago and Columbia. 

This mining of social media to persuade voters without their knowledge, together with decreased reliance on mainstream media, has been credited with the rise of authoritarian governments around the world. What is more problematic is that it can be done in so many ways, including through apps people download for fun or even used for campaigning.  

Fake news and sophisticated disinformation campaigns are especially problematic in democratic systems, and there is growing debate on how to address these issues without undermining the benefits of digital media. In order to maintain an open, democratic system, it is important that government, business, and consumers work together to solve these problems. The first step should be to support the existing mainstream media to be more empowered and ethical. 

People, especially less-informed segments of society with an inherent bias of views, would eagerly embrace and believe fake news and mistrust mainstream media, which they could see as unreliable or being influenced by other agendas. This is why is it critical to promote the independence of newspapers and other media in a meaningful way, so that people have a source of information they can trust. 

Undermining media independence by pushing them to be politically partisan undermines this confidence. Between news coverage they don’t like and fake news that is manipulative in nature, many people question the accuracy of their news. This decline in public trust in media is dangerous for democracies.  This gap has manifested in questionable election results, political change, and communal tensions around the world. Such developments have complicated the manner in which people hold leaders accountable, and the way in which the political system operates.

In election campaigns around the world social media is playing an increasingly dominant role. Unfortunately, legal protections are nowhere near where they should be to push multi-billion dollar companies such as facebook to be accountable in smaller countries. Sri Lanka has always been proud of its democracy and this cannot be lost because the consequences will be felt by everyone. 


Share This Article

Facebook Twitter


1. All comments will be moderated by the Daily FT Web Editor.

2. Comments that are abusive, obscene, incendiary, defamatory or irrelevant will not be published.

3. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.

4. Kindly use a genuine email ID and provide your name.

5. Spamming the comments section under different user names may result in being blacklisted.


Today's Columnists

The Presidential Election: Into anarchy or out of anarchy?

Saturday, 24 August 2019

In politics there are no absolute truths, rights or wrongs: all is relative. Politics is about choices and alternatives. It is also the art of the possible. The best policy for the people is to work through the give

We need to challenge climate change doubters before it is too late

Friday, 23 August 2019

Imagine a London where the entire subterranean region is engulfed with dirty water. Crammed train carriages that once barrelled along 249 miles of track transporting busy office workers, builders, teachers, civil servants, cleaners and students now r

The Provincial Council Elections – The charade goes on

Friday, 23 August 2019

Originally the SLPP was keen to hold the Provincial Council Elections (PCE) immediately after the Local Government Election results as they felt the PCE would go in their favour. PCE were held under the Proportional Representation system. The relevan

The presidency and the dilemma of the Presidential Election

Friday, 23 August 2019

J.R. Jayewardene created a presidential system not because the parliamentary system of governance that preceded it had failed. He wanted to take over all the powers of the State and assume the status of ancient kings who ruled the country in the past

Columnists More

Special Report