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Collective action needed now to tackle spread of disinformation in public life, finds new report

Published on
16 Oct 2019
A new report from the Oxford Technology and Elections Commission, convened by the Oxford Internet Institute, calls for coordinated action by the public and private sector to address and redress problems around disinformation in public life today.

A new report from the Oxford Technology and Elections Commission (OxTEC), convened by the Oxford Internet Institute, calls for coordinated action by the public and private sector to address and redress problems around disinformation in public life today.

‘Ready to Vote: Elections, Technology & Political Campaigning in the United Kingdom’, co-authored by Professor Phil Howard, Director of the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) and lead researcher Lisa-Maria Neudert, sets out a series of recommendations aimed at securing the information infrastructure of elections and creating a trusted environment for the democratic use of technology.

The report highlights areas for immediate action for policymakers, political parties, industry and civil society and also sets out short-term and long-term recommendations.

Key recommendations

  • Government – Relevant government agencies should meet regularly and establish a mechanism for the Electoral Commission to verify campaigners and ensure appropriate legislation is in place to track campaign expenditure
  • Political parties –  They should develop a code of practice for the use of third-party data and provide the Electoral Commission with details of commercially purchased data and imprints disclosing information about campaigners.
  • Industry – Social media platforms should create a full advertising archive freely accessible to all and provide the Electoral Commission with reports on content moderation and takedowns
  • Civil Society – External firms to conduct audits of social media companies and their practices that reflect expectations from election administrators. Identify data needs required to devise on shortcomings and risk of social networks.

Professor Philip Howard, Director of the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) and OxTEC Commissioner, said:

“Technology has allowed more people to participate in political discussion than ever before and has been vital to engaging harder to reach groups. Social media is also now fully embedded in political communication. In our new report, we set out the key challenges affecting democracy in the United Kingdom and provide recommendations on how civil society, policymakers, and social media companies can work together to address these challenges, using technology to strengthen democracy now and in the future”.

Lead researcher at the OII and Commission Secretary Lisa-Maria Neudert said:

“Political parties and candidates have an online presence and digital targeting has become an indispensable tool in any politician’s electoral kit, with campaigners developing increasingly sophisticated strategies every election cycle. Questions around the role of technology and democracy have emerged as an ongoing challenge for regulators in the United Kingdom and around the world.  Regulators, industry and civil society must act in a coordinated way to protect democracy.”

OxTEC convened by the OII, consists of academics, researchers, technology experts and policymakers, and was established to explore how to safeguard democracy from the potentially disruptive influences of modern technology.

Mohamed Amersi, Founder & CEO of Emergent Telecom Ventures and OxTEC Commissioner said:

“Free and fair elections are a cornerstone of our democracy and form the foundation of our institutions, world order and the rule of law. Anything that questions or dilutes the legality and legitimacy of this mandate must be resisted at all costs. Sadly, processes and systems to safeguard this sacred right have not kept pace with technological advances and recent events have shown how susceptible the system is to manipulation. The ground-breaking work by the Commission is both timely and necessary and it is imperative that Governments all over the world review, and as appropriate, implement its findings. It has been a privilege for me to serve as a Commissioner”.

Christina Blacklaws, President of The Law Society of England and Wales 2018/9 and OxTEC Commissioner said:

‘There could not be a more prescient time in our recent history for publishing this important work on how we maintain the integrity of elections.  All stakeholders in society – the public, government and political parties, need to take these sensible recommendations on board. We must adapt to ensure that we protect our democracy and enable fair and transparent elections in our digital society. This new OxTEC report gives us the blueprint to do just that”.

Paddy McGuinness, Senior Advisor, Brunswick Group and OxTEC Commissioner said:

“Our democratic processes give legitimacy to collective action and maintain public consent, but they are now manifestly under threat.  The OxTEC report offers a considered view of what can be done to improve protections and maintain public confidence.”

Download the full report here.

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