• New analysis shows civil society groups and digital rights activists faced several obstacles to observe social media during the elections due to lack of available data
  • Election observers calling for changes to data privacy laws and election regulations to protect integrity of future elections

Researchers at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, have uncovered significant barriers to civil society groups and digital rights activists tracking the spread of online disinformation and hate speech during the 2019 Tunisian elections and are calling for changes to the current system to protect the integrity of future elections.

In the latest data memo from the Computational Propaganda project, co-authored by lead researcher Mona Elswah, Oxford Internet Institute and Professor Philip N. Howard, Director, Oxford Internet Institute, “The Challenges of Monitoring Social Media in the Arab World: The Case of the 2019 Tunisian Elections”, the Oxford academics assess the spread of disinformation online and the effectiveness of existing laws to counter online disinformation in Tunisia.

Mona Elswah, doctoral candidate and lead author of the data memo, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford said:

“Our study shines a light on the challenges facing Tunisian civil society groups and digital rights activists in the digital age. Facebook is the most popular social media platform in Tunisia, with more Tunisians registered on Facebook than there are registered voters in the country. Civil society groups and activists need better access to Facebook data on political advertising to enable them to assess the prevalence of disinformation in political campaigning and its implications for Tunisian democracy”.

Researchers conducted face to face interviews with twenty civil society leaders and digital rights activists in December 2019. The interviews addressed the following areas: the ability of civil society groups to monitor social media effectively during the elections, technical and legal challenges faced by leaders and activists while monitoring social media and ways to prevent the spread of online disinformation in Tunisia.

Key findings

  • Tunisian civil society groups concerned about the spread of disinformation online
  • Majority of civil society groups and digital rights activists lacked human and financial capacity to effectively monitor social media in Tunisia
  • Efforts to monitor social media in run up to and during 2019 Tunisian elections were limited and not co-ordinated between civil society groups
  • Lack of access to Facebook data and absence of on online data analysis tools to collect real-time data
  • Facebook ads library acts as a barrier to Tunisian social media observers as it doesn’t archive electoral or political advertising nor provide further details about political ads in Tunisia
  • Civil society leaders and digital rights activists calling for legal amendments to current laws to include regulation of online disinformation

Adds Professor Philip N Howard, co-author of the data memo and Director of the Oxford Internet Institute:

“We believe that social media platforms have a responsibility to act now and provide civil society groups and digital activists with better access to their data.  In addition, civil society groups are also calling for an overhaul of the electoral system and would like to see amendments to the current laws in Tunisia to reflect the digital age. Without platform providers adopting greater transparency, it will be difficult for democracy in Tunisia to flourish.”

For more information or to request an interview, please contact Sara Spinks on 01865 287220 or email press@oii.ox.ac.uk

Notes for editors

Download the full report

For previous data memos visit the OII’s Computational Propaganda Project website.

About the Oxford Internet Institute

The Oxford Internet Institute (OII) is a multidisciplinary research and teaching department of the University of Oxford, dedicated to the social science of the Internet. Drawing from many different disciplines, the OII works to understand how individual and collective behaviour online shapes our social, economic and political world. Since its founding in 2001, research from the OII has had a significant impact on policy debate, formulation and implementation around the globe, as well as a secondary impact on people’s wellbeing, safety and understanding. Drawing on many different disciplines, the OII takes a combined approach to tackling society’s big questions, with the aim of positively shaping the development of the digital world for the public good.