Disinformation has become a critical challenge for democracies around the world. It can create chaos, division and distrust — harming electoral processes as voters go to the polls with a mixture of incorrect information and conspiracy theories. Disinformation can also damage electoral legitimacy when lies are spread about the electoral result and its fairness.
In Zambia, to protect democracy from disinformation, the European Union and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) set up a joint initiative to identify and fight harmful content during the general elections of August 2021 that led to a historic transfer of power.
To respond to the threat posed by disinformation, the EC-UNDP Joint Task Force and the Democracy Strengthening (DSZ) project developed ‘iVerify’, a fact-checking and response mechanism.
On election day, one of the iVerify fact-checkers, Kondwani Thindwa helped refute a widely circulating story that led to the build up of an angry crowd. An Electoral Commission officer was alleged to be manipulating votes and some people misinterpreted the use of a biometric voter verification machine and became suspicious.
Kondwani’s timely action stopped the story from undermining the integrity of the electoral process.
This initiative is a gamechanger to the provision of information.
Fighting hate speech
Another fact checker, Nyambe Jere said that iVerify is creating “an environment in Zambia that denounces hate speech, misinformation and disinformation, where people are more cautious of the information they send out”.
The fact-checkers worked around the clock, in coordination with a wide range of institutions, to provide reliable information to Zambian voters. They also worked with community media and press clubs across the country to reach remote areas and ensure that no one is left behind.
A hate speech free Zambia is possible.
Vusumuzi Sifile, Executive Director of Panos Institute Southern Africa, the coordinating entity of iVerify.
Based on the experience in Zambia, the iVerify tool has the potential to identify and tackle misinformation, disinformation and hate speech around the world. The EC-UNDP Joint Task Force on Electoral Assistance is currently replicating iVerify across various regions - from Honduras to Liberia - to counter the threat to information integrity.
The task force, which has been providing support to over 100 electoral assistance projects since 2006, is addressing disinformation and hate speech, key to promoting informed, inclusive societies, reducing the risk of electoral violence and therefore ensuring peaceful electoral processes.