Disinformation trends to watch out for in 2024 election season

In recent years, there has been an unprecedented rise in disinformation, especially during election periods. This pervasive phenomenon coupled with the surge in the use of generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools poses a threat to electoral integrity and democracy. 2024 is a year slated for presidential and parliamentary elections in Ghana and about 19 African countries.

As such, the onset of disinformation trends and campaigns is imminent. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2024 Global Risk Report, misinformation and disinformation are the most severe global risks anticipated in the next two years and the fifth in the next 10 years. According to the report, the existence of misinformation and disinformation within electoral processes has the potential to significantly disrupt both the actual and perceived legitimacy of recently elected governments. This poses a risk of political unrest, violence, terrorism, and a gradual deterioration of democratic processes in the long term.

Fact-Check Ghana has therefore identified some election disinformation trends in Ghana, most of which began in 2023 and may still be present before, during and after the upcoming general elections.

1.      False claims about achievements

The notable and most common disinformation trend is candidates falsely claiming achievements or instances where candidates are falsely credited with achievements or successes to enhance their public image. In some instances, these political actors and their followers inflate the significance of achievements to create a grandiose narrative. A typical example of this is when the Minister of Foreign Affairs and a member of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) claimed that Vice President and presidential aspirant Dr Mahamudu Bawumia initiated the online passport system in Ghana. The claim was found to be false.

Similarly, political figures and their supporters often ascribe failures to their adversaries. An illustrative instance is when Former President John Dramani Mahama asserted that Ghana is currently the most indebted country in the world. Fact-Check Ghana found the claim to be misleading

2.     False quotes

The dissemination of false quotes attributed to politicians and key figures in politics is an emerging disinformation scheme. The trend involves the creation of flyers with statements presented as authentic quotes on fictitious news websites or social media platforms. For instance, at the peak of the VRA-induced floods in the Volta Region, a flyer with a quote purportedly from Former President John Dramani Mahama circulated online, claiming that President Akufo-Addo declined to visit the flood victims because of their ethnicity. The quote was found to be false.

 Another false quote that surfaced online suggested that a former Electoral Commissioner said he had always been a member of the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC).

3.    Deepfakes and edited multimedia content

According to the World Economic Forum, “easy-to-use interfaces to large-scale artificial intelligence (AI) models have already enabled an explosion in falsified information”.

AI-generated audiovisual content, commonly referred to as deepfakes, poses a significant threat to elections. With minimal commands, these tools can swiftly produce falsified pictures, videos and audio to shape narratives. The phenomenon which has been termed ‘disinformation on steroids’ has already reared its ugly head in Ghana.

 Prior to the National Patriotic Party’s (NPP) primaries, a video surfaced on social media alleging that Ghana’s Deputy Ambassador to China and candidate contesting in the primaries in the Ablekuma North Constituency, Nana Akua Owusu Afriyie was involved in visa fraud and the embezzlement of funds. Checks by Fact-Check Ghana showed that the video was a deepfake.

In December 2023, a video documentary emerged on social media supposedly from  Aljazeera. The documentary alleged the chieftaincy dispute in Bawku could escalate into a genocide if Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, the flagbearer of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP), becomes the next president of Ghana. The video added that the conflict was being fueled by the Vice President. However, Fact-Check Ghana’s checks showed that the voiceover (narration) was AI-generated and the video was not an Aljazeera production.

4.    Twitter bots

Twitter is one of the most used social media platform during election periods. The platform, however, serves as a fertile ground for the proliferation of automated content through bots. These bots are programmed to amplify specific messages or hashtags, creating an illusion of widespread support or opposition and drowning legitimate discourse making it difficult to find credible information.

During elections and other political events, bots are often used to foster discord, spread rumours, and fuel polarization. They use algorithms to increase visibility for content and create fake trends. The use of bots in political communication observed during elections in countries such as Nigeria and Kenya, foreshadows their probable use in Ghana’s 2024 elections.

5.    Activities of influencers

Another worrying trend of disinformation is the use influencers in disseminating false information.

Today, influencers wield the power to sway people and shape public opinion. With their large social media following and active online presence, they are often perceived as reliable sources of information by their followers. Consequently, they have become tools that politicians use to advance their own agenda and make their opponents unpopular. These influencers leverage their platforms to disseminate messages, whether accurate or inaccurate, on behalf of these political actors sometimes in exchange for financial benefit.

An example of this is when a popular X (formerly Twitter) account by the name, @MrJibriel  asserted that the flagbearer of the New Democratic Congress (NDC) John Dramani Mahama built the Wa Regional Hospital from scratch. Checks by Fact-Check Ghana revealed that the claim was factually inaccurate.

Over the past year, there has been a notable surge in the number of influencers who openly show allegiance to one party or another while vehemently criticizing others, often resorting to verbal abuse and attacks. Additionally, loyalist pages such as @TheTPatriots also known as the X patriots and @NDCwebb  have emerged with the primary objective of championing their preferred candidate and party.

Furthermore, there are influencers seemingly unaffiliated with any political party who nonetheless employ their platforms to propagate political mis/disinformation, occasionally adopting polarizing and ethnocentric narratives. A case in point occurred in October 2023 when sections of the Volta Region experienced flooding due to the Akosombo Dam spillage. An account on Twitter, @bongoideas, falsely claimed that the President had ordered the dam spillage to flood the people of Lower Volta as payback for not voting for him. Fact-Check Ghana‘s investigation conclusively debunked the claim, revealing that the people of Lower Volta had been earlier informed of the spillage.

6.    Coordinated behaviour

Social media platforms have become hotbeds for coordinated disinformation campaigns. A network of multiple accounts and bots work together to create an illusion of widespread support or opposition. These campaigns are typically multiple actors strategically disseminating false or misleading content, or in other cases content that discredits a candidate across various social media platforms, especially on X (formerly Twitter). Such campaigns are mostly initiated by political entities, loyalist pages or foreign actors seeking to sway public opinion. These cyber troopers usually distribute mass content containing the same caption, emojis, hashtags, images and videos.

An example of this is the #MahamaIsALiar campaign which began in 2020, an election year on X (formerly Twitter). The hashtag was continuously used by multiple accounts accompanied by a video (here, here and here) causing it to be among the top trends on X.

7.     Fake websites and parody social media accounts

Fake websites and parody social media accounts are major conveyors of false information, threatening the credibility of information from legitimate sources and eroding trust in institutions and electoral integrity. Designed to imitate the layout, style and content of credible news sources and official platforms, these websites fabricate articles with sensational headlines and distorted facts to deceive readers. Additionally, they leverage social media to increase their reach as users unknowingly share information from these websites.

Parody social media accounts mimic legitimate profiles but operate with the intent to mislead or satirise. While some may be created for comedic purposes, others serve as deliberate tools for disinformation.

Lately, there has been a surge in parody accounts on X (formerly Twitter), imitating those of celebrities, footballers, officials, and institutions. Distinguishing between these accounts has become increasingly challenging, especially with the new features on Twitter that enable any account to obtain a verification badge.

What you can do

Mitigating disinformation, especially during elections demands a collaborative effort from multiple stakeholders. Social media users and citizens can play an active role in maintaining the integrity of the democratic process by following these practical steps.

  1. Verify before sharing: Before sharing any information, especially news articles or images, cross reference with reputable news sources or fact-check websites.
  2. Check the source: Always examine the source of information. Legitimate news sources, state agencies and recognised bodies are more likely to provide credible information. Be cautious of unfamiliar websites or sources.
  3. Stay informed: Keep yourself informed about the latest news stories and developments by visiting or following credible media outlets.
  4. Participate in fact-checking: Support fact-checking initiatives. Share accurate and correct narratives if possible.
  5. Be conscientious: Engage in civil and respectful discussions when sharing differing opinions. Avoid contributing to polarizing and ethnocentric conversations that can be exploited by disinformation campaigns.
  6. Report: Most social media platforms have features designed for reporting and flagging false information. If you encounter misleading content, report it to the platform and provide additional context or corrections if you can.

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