Attacks on the integrity of democratic elections are not only a problem in the Global South. In established democracies like the UK and the US, the interplay of populism and technology (see below), coming against a backdrop of outdated election laws and mechanisms, has led to a rise in misinformation, ‘fake news’ and hate speech, especially online. This misinformation and hate speech is often microtargeted (using/abusing the personal data of individual rights-holders) to play on individual voters’ political beliefs or fears. There have been numerous parliamentary, congressional and security service reports in recent years that attest to the scale of this problem, and to the inadequacy of existing regulatory and non-regulatory (e.g. factcheck sites, ‘take down’ agreements) responses. Following his December 2019 mission to Ethiopia, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye reported that online hate speech and fake news is the key concern of rights-holders in the country, especially in the context of its democratic transition and upcoming elections.
Building on its existing engagement with governments and social media companies (including Facebook) in the context of UN policies to combat religious intolerance and hate speech, URG will work with interested States, companies, UN experts (e.g. Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression), and NGOs to consider, develop and share workable policy solutions to this growing – and so far unaddressed – threat to liberal democracy, and to democratic transitions. It will seek to do so in a manner that recognises the seriousness of the challenge posed by online hate speech and fake news, yet also defends freedom of expression and opinion.
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