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SELECT Conference

Global Conference Peaceful and Inclusive Elections in a Digital AgeSharing challenges and identifying programmatic solutions, Brussels 8, 9 to 10 November.

Brussels, 8 to 10 November 2023—brough together around 150 participants from Electoral Management Bodies, civil society, academia and regional and international organizations working on issues around elections, participation, inclusion, information integrity, youth, and gender in the frame of conflict prevention and electoral assistance from 52 countries gathered in Brussels to discuss the role of information integrity and digital in ensuring peaceful and inclusive elections.

The conference was organized in the framework of the ‘Sustaining Peace during Electoral Processes’ (SELECT) programme, a joint initiative of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the European Union’s Foreign Policy Instrument, aimed to prevent or mitigate election-related violence.

In 2024, more voters are expected to cast their ballot than in any year before. This conference provided an opportunity for inclusive and participatory governance to an unprecedented degree. Nonetheless, as elections inherently lay bare differences within a society, many countries face an increased risk of conflict and violence. The past decade has seen a significant uptick in election-related disputes and elections triggering violence and tensions and prolonged periods of deadlock, in at least fifteen countries.

The challenges, and opportunities presented by the era of digitalisation have transformed elections in every country. The unlimited reach and access of social media, the rise of artificial intelligence, and the increased use of technology within the delivery of elections play a critical factor in electoral processes. It is (re)shaping the relationship between elected representatives and citizens, which depending on the decisions and judgement of the various actors involved in elections, may strengthen or undermine electoral processes.

It is within this context that the EU FPI and UNDP are organizing the “Inclusive and Peaceful Elections in a Digital Age” Conference as part of the joint Sustaining Peace during Electoral Processes Project.

With over 150 participants from all over the world discussing programmatic challenges and solutions in digital-era electoral assistance over the course of 2,5 days, the conference aimed to contribute to the overall objective of the SELECT programme: share and identify best practices to address election-related violence.

The joint EU FPI-UNDP Sustaining Peace during Electoral Processes Project aims to identify programmatic entry points and formulate programmatic guidance for the prevention and mitigation of election-related violence. The project focuses on a number of thematic areas ranging from Information Integrity to Youth and Women’s Participation, which are the central themes of the “Inclusive and Peaceful Elections in a digital Age” Conference.

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How to achieve credible, inclusive and peaceful elections in the digital age, whilst benefiting from the advantages of modern technology? This question is set to define how elections evolve over the coming years and decades.

An election can be evaluated on several axes, but perhaps one of the fundamental measures is the degree of confidence various stakeholders have in the process. It is a leading factor in the ultimate acceptance of the results and the potential for electoral or political violence. Much investment has been made in exploring how to build confidence in elections, such as professional election delivery, inclusive processes, independent bodies, transparency, amongst others.

The digital age has introduced new dynamics to the relationship between stakeholders and their confidence in electoral processes. The main waves of disruption are tectonic changes in how people communicate, and new technological solutions to public service delivery. For some, these developments may support more successful elections and vibrant democracies. Other fear these may fatally undermine public confidence in elections and democratic institutions.

Technologies potential is inherently contradictory. It can be simultaneously divisive and unifying. Exclusive and inclusive. Which outcomes prevail are a function of how they are designed, deployed, the context in which they are deployed and the actions of electoral stakeholders.

To gain an insight on how to achieve favoured electoral outcomes, the European Union Foreign Policy Instrument and UNDP held a Global Conference in Brussels from 8-10 November 2023, under the Sustaining Peace during Electoral Processes ‘’SELECT’’ Project conference. The event allowed the engagement of election practitioners and information integrity experts from around the world to exchange view and experiences, pose recommendations, and identify questions.

Below are key takeaways from this event and the work of UNDP, providing considerations for engaging with elections in the digital age:

Democratic governance in the digital age

  1. Democracy has been in regression for years. Disruption in the modes and ownership of political communication invoked by technology has been posited by many as contributing to this decline.
  2. Digital technologies hold the potential to contribute towards societal good and ill. The ultimate impact of technology upon democratic governance rests upon a number of factors, including the design of the technology itself, prioritisation of trust and safety, governance frameworks, and socio-political-technological context within which they are deployed. It is vital that local and global efforts strive to establish conditions which support technology to contribute towards human flourishing, including through international regulatory means.
  3. Despite the need for more international cooperation in the digital age, a lack of consensus over fundamental norms makes it difficult to determine how empowering or corrosive technology is, or often what is classified as a societal good. While challenging, enhancing global conversations on this is essential to future democratic governance.
  4. Service delivery is fundamental to good governance, and technology has the potential to reform practice, with inclusion and effectiveness at its core.

Digital threats to elections

  1. Within this document, are a myriad of ways the digital age has reinforced or introduced new dynamics to electoral processes. These phenomena are inextricably intertwined, calling for a holistic consideration of digital threats to elections, and how they can be averted. Looking forward, threats will inevitably grow as practice innovates and technologies emerge, not least artificial intelligence.
  2. There are a range of digital threats to elections, and while information pollution is a considerable one, it is not alone. Other examples include; censorship, internet shutdowns and throttling, cybersurveillance, privacy violations and cyberattacks.
  3. There is a broad consensus between election practitioners, information integrity practitioners and the general public that information pollution is a material concern to elections across the world, with many countries already believing it to have had a deleterious impact upon their elections. They also agree there are insufficient protections in place to challenge its impact.
  4. Online information pollution has offline and historical analogies, and their potency is frequently rooted in broader grievances.
  5. However, the internet, and particular social media platforms, have a set of features which can amplify information pollution in ways beyond legacy media and traditional information distribution methods.
  6. The election period introduces additional characteristics which further complicate the information ecosystem. The spike in political activity, the broad and partisan public stakes, international interests, high stakes to candidates and votes alike, a requirement for plurality and inclusion of political speech, and the need to provide a level playing field, are just some of the features.
  7. The election also introduces a number of specific targets for information pollution campaigns, including the election management body, and the election process itself, Credible elections have always relied upon the perceived legitimacy of the administrative institution and its work, which can
    be unduly undermined by information pollution.
  8. Political actors have long deployed electoral violence to advance their electoral interests, often using disinformation as a tactic to mobilise their supporters, undermine their opponents, or promote false narratives about the electoral process. There are concerns that the internet, and online platforms, have provided an under regulated yet potentially powerful medium to instigate electoral violence with few, if any, consequences. There is also a fear that major platforms are designed with the goal of maximising user engagement. This includes elevating content designed to trigger emotional
    responses, which in turn potentially contributes to electoral violence.
  9. Artificial Intelligence is preoccupying the electoral and disinformation communities, as it is many other fields. Artificial Intelligence is expected to have a transformative influence upon much of modern life, and elections are not exempted. Generative AI will make the production of seemingly authentic and evocative harmful content easier, cheaper and more scalable. AI may also be deployed to support the distribution of information pollution, including though the creation of fake accounts or facsimileing convincing engagement.
  10. Building protections against the weaponization of Artificial Intelligence in electoral information environments is vital but complex, with defenses likely to incorporate regulatory, educational and technological approaches. There is a need for international cooperation given the global nature of the issue.
  11. Artificial intelligence also promises to support the integrity and inclusion of elections, both as a counter measure to adversarial AIs, but it may also create new opportunities for greater participation, voter information and equal competition.

How to protect the electoral information environment

  1. The digital age poses numerous and significant challenges to the electoral information environment, demanding a new family of activities designed to promote information integrity and protect the election process.
  2. The electoral authorities, other governmental bodies, civil society, platforms, academic, the media and the political contestants are the key actors involved in the electoral information space. Each holds the potential to strengthen or weaken the information environment, through their actions, or inaction. For example, the EMB is the target of information pollution, but also has a responsibility to protect work within its mandate by providing access to reliable information on the election and having the capacities to combat disinformation narratives intended to deter participation or undermine its credibility.
  3. Different actors hold different strengths and capabilities. A core goal of actors in this space should be engaged in a multi-stakeholder approach to the challenge, establishing structures which allow them to work in concert, to allow them to be most effective. These relationships may come in the form of coordination bodies, loose information sharing groups, communities of practice, or more formal arrangements to collaborate on specific activities. Furthermore, such engagement will permit the sharing of knowledge, and a greater capacity of advocacy.
  4. Where possible, the responses should be guided by a strategy – a strategy which may complement a broader national vision of how to tackle the challenges of information pollution. These may be plans for the governmental institutions, or a broader multi-stakeholder vision, depending upon the realities of the context.
  5. While there is a spike in the information pollution during the operational and campaigning period directly preceding an election, a more longitudinal vision is important to address increasingly protracted attacks on electoral institutions, and strengthening broader resilience in advance of the peaks.
  6. When conceptualising a program of activities, a framework can be developed on 1) how to detect and respond to information pollution during the election 2) how to build the underlying public resilience to information pollution, 3) how to regulate the landscape to deter actors from disseminating information pollution and platforms for facilitating it. More detail on each can be found on the SELECT website Information Integrity Report – Select (

Detect and response to information pollution

  1. Identifying and responding to information pollution in the course of an election process is a critical area of work when attempting to defend an on-going election. Approaches such as online content monitoring and analysis, fact checking, open source investigations and strategic communication are common.
  2. There may be various actors charged with defending the electoral information environment. Part of this responsibility is to monitor the information environment and effectively address harmful content and narratives. However, there is a broad consensus that content level responses are not sufficient.
  3. Fact checking, as an activity typically delivered by civil society, media and other civilian groupings, is a vital and popular activity around election processes. However, its limitations in reaching and affecting
    the views shaped by information pollution need to be acknowledged. In turn, these limits inform which complementary actions are selected, designed and delivered.
  4. Election management bodies are well advised to invest in tools and structures including partnerships to better understand and respond to the information environment, as well as develop their strategic communications competence to better defend their staff, the institution, and the election process from
    malicious actors.

Building public resilience to information pollution

  1. Efforts to build greater personal resilience to information pollution can focus on educational activities and informational capacity building. This stream of work can mitigate gaps in content related approaches.
  2. Civic education has been a long-standing activity within the election process, however, should be retooled to build voter knowledge and combat potential information pollution campaigns.
  3. Enhancing digital literacy and critical thinking are vital to building broad public resilience to modern information pollution. It is an area of work only recently gaining popularity, increasing the need for rigorous accompanying research to allow the community to understand what works.
  4. Building an information ecosystem which provides reliable and trusted information is vital. The election management body, civil society, and the media all have responsibilities, and yet their level of public confidence may require careful consideration of the best type of programming and partners for each type of activity.

Approaches to regulating political speech and information pollution

  1. Influencing the behaviour of political actors in the information environment can provide another approach to constrain and disincentivize the propagation of information pollution. There are a range of approaches, =such as legally binding to voluntary guidelines, and from supranational frameworks to extremely local agreements. Fundamentally, coercing political actors, platforms and media to contribute to the healthy information ecosystem – either through legal or political means – can be beneficial if successful.
  2. Any approach to create accountability within the electoral information ecosystem should prioritise human rights approaches, most relevant of which is freedom of expression.
  3. A multi-stakeholder approach is warranted during the design of any regulatory activity. It is the right of vulnerable groups and communities to be included in the conversations taking place – be in at a local, national or international level.
  4. Regulation of online platforms can be used to shape the information environment towards promoting reliable information, reducing information pollution and assigning accountability to what has become a set of key actors in the election process. A word of caution is required, however, as regulatory processes are open to abuse and manipulation.
  5. Codes of Conduct can provide a more agile means of building guard-rails around the activities of political parties and other electoral actors and provide a means to avoid some of the concerns around government abuse. However, these approaches must be designed in a context specific manner in order
    to be effective, including consideration towards monitoring and enforcement.

Digital Inclusion, and exclusion

  1. Inclusion is a fundamental tenant in the conduct of elections, however, despite various efforts some contexts have experienced a regression in recent years.
  2. Democratic participation can flourish as a result of digital technology, allowing for increased means for participation and community engagement, new ways to access information and the provision of accessible election technology. Data can improve programming and services delivery.
  3. However, some of the observed decline in inclusion is likely to be a result of technology in the political sphere, with factors such as the digital divide, lack of trust, and systematic bias undermining inclusion.
  4. As technology is introduced within elections, stakeholders should consider its impact upon inclusion, paying attention to intersectionality, and designing methods to alleviate inequities – for election administration but also within the information environment.

Violence against women

  1. Online violence against women has become an endemic concern within elections, deployed to make public life untenable for aspiring female politicians and supporters.
  2. The issues of gendered online discrimination are underpinned by more fundamental prejudices within societies – biases held be both women and men. Accordingly, programmatic options should acknowledge and address these underlying drivers.
  3. Despite the disturbing extent of abuse against women, there are a range of activities that can and should be deployed to protect them, strengthen their participation and introduce accountability ranging from awareness raising and engagement to capacity building and legislative reform coupled with enforcement strategies.

Youth participation in the digital elections

  1. It is crucial to involve youth in the design and execution of activities intended to promote peaceful and inclusive elections, in order to increase their potential for success.
  2. Despite the value of using technology to engage youth within the electoral process, it can be inadequate to meaningfully engage in all circumstances – especially where there is intersectionality with other attitudinal or material constraints.

Election administration in the digital age

  1. Digital transformation of election administration has been a prominent concern for election management bodies for many years, with many undertakings important reforms to make services more accessible, efficient and secure. It is an area in which a number of participants to the Global Conference reported their need for greater assistance.
  2. Successful digital transformation in the context of electoral administration requires approaches which prioritise the building of public trust in the technology and the broader electoral process.
  3. Key ways of building confidence around the deployment of electoral technology include a gradual roll out that allows trust to be established in a measured fashion. Also vital is a professional election administration capable of taking all measures possible to deliver a successful deployment, even if the scale of the initial rollouts is limited.
  4. Considerations about accessibility and the digital divide are expected to remain relevant for the foreseeable future. They should remain front of mind when devising new technologies intended to reach voters, or other stakeholders.
  5. Cyber-security is an acute concern for election administrators as they face increasingly sophisticated and varied threat actors. Building appropriate structures, engaging specialists and building strong digital capacities can provide a significant improvement in the integrity of the election management bodies digital infrastructure.
  6. Artificial intelligence is of rising interest to the community of election administrators, with hopes that it can provide important benefits to how elections are delivered. Already there is adoption of AI tools by electoral authorities seeking to enhance their work. Its application is envisaged in various aspects of their work, potentially enhancing current approaches, or even transforming the nature of election administration.
  7. Artificial Intelligence within the sensitive area of election delivery should be approached with due diligence. Despite its potential contributions, it is still in its nascently, especially within the context of election administration. With this emerging practice comes a non-negligible risk, of either failure or,
    worse still, unintended, and deleterious outcomes.

The digital age is changing how to deliver credible elections. Election practitioners across the world are navigating this new world, with both optimism and trepidation. There is no denying that in many ways, the next generation of elections will different vastly from those that have come before. Throughout the various stages of the SELECT project, various examples of innovative practices in electoral inclusion and integrity have been shared. And yet, the new hurdles reassert the importance of enduring electoral principles for electoral administration.

More than ever, professional election administration is needed to tackle potentially highly technical operations and complex threats. In an information environment where a small infraction can be leapt on with accusations of obscene bias, maintaining actual and perceived independence and impartiality of election management administration has never been more important, or difficult. Transparency is of even greater importance, with information vacuums more easily filled by malicious actors.

In practice, these principles can hold contradictions and require difficult decisions, especially in line with some of the recommendations discussed. For example: as electoral digital infrastructure is intertwined with various private and public institutions, dependences increase, and some degree of independence of action will be traded for efficiencies. Building all-of-society responses to information threats have been highlighted as vital but can invite accusations of impartiality. Professionalism is inescapable, but it also a matter of degree – which needs to be weighed against costs. Transparency is important, but with adoption of the complex algorithms, will be harder to be meaningfully understood. Evaluating trade-offs is no simple feat. The technical complexities make it harder to reach informed decisions.

The collective design and adoption of standards and best practice in these areas becomes particularly important. Looking forward, UNDP strives to support the electoral community in exploring these necessary questions.

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The precise role information pollution plays in undermining electoral credibility and driving electoral violence remains unclear. It is clear, however, that information pollution is a critical factor in electoral processes and that involved actors can mitigate its potentially destabilizing effects through the adoption of a number of measures

Role of Internet & social media

Election-related violence and challenges specifically related to information pollution in electoral processes have long pre-dated the advent of the Internet. However, widespread Internet access and the emergence of social media platforms herald a number of fundamental changes to paradigms of communication, transforming various aspects of societies, not least of them, elections.

Initially, there were high hopes for what the Internet could do to strengthen elections and democratic political processes more broadly. However, this has given way to profound concerns, with some now warning that social media will undermine the ability to conduct credible elections, and that they increase the potential for election-related violence. Despite this, it is agreed that new opportunities and challenges have emerged for the various actors involved in the election, be they the Election Management Body (EMB), politicians, the media, civil society, the newly risen technology companies and above all, the voters.

The purpose of this report is to gain a better understanding of the pertinent dynamics and to bolster the design of programming to support the information ecosystem around elections. In aid of this, UNDP sought information through a number of channels, in a review of the relevant literature, a series of regional consultations, expert meetings and a survey.

'protect through the international human rights'

While there is increasing agreement, at least from the major platforms, on the importance to adhering to international human rights law in how content is policed, the application of such can be complex and unsatisfactory. While incitement to hatred may have clearer guidance and agreement, the broader information pollution space lacks clear foundations. Indeed, election processes in particular carry an expectation that the broadest set of voices be permitted freedom of expression, within appropriate parameters. Ultimately, such guardrails may provide a floor around which to operate; alone—at least as they currently stand—they are unlikely to resolve the broader concerns at hand. Furthermore, international human rights law can provide a more rigorous framework for considering how different rights and protections can coexist as well as some guidance away from provisions that are intended to be politically instrumentalized—particularly where the justification is shakily based on different sets of human rights protections.
The body of existing empirical research is often conflicted about the impact of information pollution upon election credibility and potential for election violence. What research there is typically focuses on a small handful of platforms and predominately focuses upon a Western context. Broadly, there is agreement that information pollution can contribute to affective polarization, which in turn can influence electoral outcomes, inflame tensions and contribute towards the instigation of election-related violence. Successful attempts to do so rely upon and exploit social cleavages and tensions and are conducted as an electoral strategy—in line with typical electoral-violence concerns. Accordingly, and as indicated by the research, context is vital for gauging the potential impact of information pollution and associated factors. Furthermore, the broader information ecosystem, including traditional media, should be reflected upon in order to truly understand the dynamics and vulnerabilities in a specific context.

'research & election violence'


The various sources all conclude there remains no single panacea to the ills that information pollution brings upon elections. Rather, there is a variety of information pollution programming around elections, each with its own benefits and deficiencies. In order to support the design of a holistic information integrity strategy, this report suggests that programmes seek to address one or more of the following three concerns (1) prevention—to address the supply side of information pollution by preventing or deterring the creation of information pollution, (2) resilience—building public resilience to information pollution limiting the ability of users to be influenced or co-opted by information pollution and (3) countering—identifying and attempting to counter information pollution.
As practitioners consider where to target their efforts, they should often be guided by pre-existing principles, updated for the Internet-age. First and foremost, this means attempting to address the underlying societal tensions, at least to the extent possible within an election period. Prioritizing promoting, rather than stifling, freedom of expression is more likely to engender trust.

Transparency remains a key approach to the credibility of election processes, as does the quality of the election administration. Meanwhile, activities to combat the ill-effects of information pollution, by engaging with the general public, are increasingly recognized.

Political actors are the most prominent producers or amplifiers of election information pollution, and accordingly, are important to consider when devising measures to improve the information ecosystem around an election, such as political party and candidate codes of conduct or peace pledges. When considering those most in need of protection, it is women and marginalized communities who are the most likely targets of information pollution, and accordingly deserve appropriate attention. Of course, the intermediaries—the media and now, technology companies—have a vital role to play. Nevertheless, for a truly effective strategy, the broadest set of stakeholders should be addressed in a context-appropriate fashion.

Both research and programming face significant challenges from the rapidly changing technological landscape, shifting audiences and legislative decisions. However, these shifts may also create new opportunities, in particular around transparency.

A number of recommendations were identified on the basis of the research exercise:
  1. No single solution has been found to the myriad of information integrity concerns, nor is it expected one shall be.
  2. Instead, a range of activities are required, which should be complimentary and tailored to the specific country context.
  3. Underlying the efforts must be a successfully conducted election deserving credibility, without which the information integrity activities should not be expected to provide unearned legitimacy.
  4. Responses should take a multi-stakeholder approach. Various actors, including political parties, civil society organizations, technology firms and governments, have different mandates and roles to play. Yet, all the actors are unlikely to realize their individual goals without collective and coordinated action.
  5. Successful approaches need to be embedded in the unique context. To support this, a thorough assessment of the information environment is a critical starting point.
  6. When considering the options before them, practitioners should elevate those centered on the promotion of human rights, as opposed to those likely to be restrictive and that may inadvertently undermine the credibility of the election process.
  7. In particular, when considering the regulatory approaches, care should be given to ensuring advice is appropriate to the relevant context and rights while remaining wary of attempting to transplant legislation from one context to another.
  8. When assessing the threat social media poses to elections and voter behaviour, the potential for polarization is particularly urgent—the extent of which depends upon various country-context factors, including drivers of polarization, levels of distrust towards institutions and partisan traditional media, critically when considering interventions are approaches that tackle the underlying societal tensions.
  9. Engaging with political actors is particularly resonant in the context of an election competition, where they are often the producers or instigators of information pollution, but also the targets. Supporting the negotiation and implementation of codes of conduct that consider online activities by the different electoral stakeholders can help to diffuse tensions and limit the instrumentalization of polarization within campaign strategies.
  10. Fact-checking is an important, but insufficient activity. While vital for promoting accountability, its ability to effect corrections in the minds of voters is challenged.
  11. Building public resilience among audiences is a means to attend to the demand side of the challenge. However, we should also be cognizant of the challenges here, both with regards to overcoming bias and reasonableness of affecting such skills in such a broad cohort.
  12. Corrosive narratives are often seen to undermine confidence in the public institutions related to the election process. For public institutions to be able to combat these attacks, they—and the organizations that support them—require the appropriate technical skills, toolkits and financial resources. Support is necessary to allow the widest range of State actors to operate within this new domain. These competences stretch from detecting and responding to information pollution to protecting the integrity of its systems.
  13. Public trust in media and journalism has come under increasing strain, while the importance of the profession is vital to combatting information pollution. Activities that foster ethics in the field as well as support actors to expand their investigative capabilities can improve the electoral information ecosystem.
  14. Social media has been increasingly maligned, and while perhaps deservedly so, this should not distract from the strengths it can have as a tool for engaging various stakeholders and communities, coordinating action and advocating for peace. Actors involved in elections should seek to support the positive role that social media and messaging services can play in promoting inclusive credible elections and preventing electoral violence.
  15. The modern iteration of the information integrity field is still young, and as a community, the body of evidence of the efficacy of various interventions is still being built. As part of any activity, rigorous evaluation practices should be implemented.
  16. Information pollution, and the drivers of it, do not restrict themselves to the period of electoral operations. Furthermore, many activities in the area require prolonged periods to be effective. Accordingly, activities need to be considered beyond a single election process but over multi-electoral cycles.
  17. Information pollution is not limited to the Internet, and in the course of programming, practitioners should look beyond to explore the various ways that it migrates through societies.
  18. Platforms are powerful actors in these efforts; however, they may require pressure to act appropriately, and the newer platforms may not have adequate policies or technologies. Digital companies may also require support to ensure adequate, timely and effective action to protect electoral integrity and remove posts inciting violence.
  19. The technological landscape is expected to evolve in various and often unexpected ways—creating new threats and opportunities. This will call for continuous investment in counter-technologies, tactics and research.

Information Integrity E-learning

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