Codes of Conduct

Tackling information integrity issues at the source, or the point of amplification, has the potential to greatly improve the quality of the information environment and act as a pre-emptive measure to election violence. However, convincing the creators and distributers of information pollution to constrain themselves can be challenging.  

Given the role of candidates and political parties in the election, their commitment to information integrity is vital. Further, there are various other entities whose online actions can have an outsized impact, such as media outlets, civil society, and significant influencers. Beyond these actors, the platforms themselves play an important role in the promulgation and governance of online speech – though these are covered in a separate option document.   

Codes of conduct on how specific actors should behave online during the election process can help to create a common understanding and potentially provide some framework with which to detect and censure harmful activity. In most instances, entry into a code is voluntary, however monitoring and mechanism for penalties can be designed. Inclusive processes of forming the Code of Conduct can support trust between the signatories.  

Codes of conduct can also enlist these stakeholders as allies and create a broader public expectation for standards of online behaviour.



Codes of conduct have been a long-standing and valuable tool within election processes to bind the behaviour of specific actors, be they politicians, parties, media or the election authorities themselves. In most contexts they are voluntary agreements that entities will choose to enter. They can be designed to include mechanisms for monitoring and dispute resolution. 

This is a tool that can be harnessed to support the information integrity around an election, be it through including appropriate provisions within existing codes, or establishing specific codes of conduct for social media use. 

The specific provisions are of course important, but also the process by which they are designed can have a significant impact upon the successful adoption and adherence to the rules.  

Some contexts will provide an authority with the mandate to monitor compliance to the code of conduct, and allow it to take action. For example, the election management body, or a state media monitoring body may have this role. However, in other instances, a less formal arrangement may be designed, for example with civil society accountability or through a peer group of the signatories. In either case, it is vital that the monitoring body has the relevant technical and political capacity to closely monitor and follow-up identified issues.  


The design of the process will vary depending upon the context, however the following steps are illustrative of the requirements: 

  • Convening – Identifying the appropriate body or bodies to lead the activity, and then the groups, representatives and individuals to involve in the discussion over the code of conduct.


  • Negotiation – Discussions over the contents of the code of conduct, potentially in workshops and over multiple sessions. This may require support in the organisation and facilitation of meetings. Expert analysis of potential risks may support an informed process.


  • Agreement – Forming an agreement on the specifics of the code of conduct, holding a ceremony for its ratification, and publicising the contents accordingly. Activities may also be required to ensure the various parties – including campaign teams, members of political offices, social media officers etc – are fully briefed on the requirements upon them. 
  • Monitoring – Where required, establishing an approach to monitor the activities of the signatories, vis a vis the agreement. Different approaches may be taken to implement this but may require social media listening or fact-checking by a third party or governing body, mutual reporting by parties to the code, or public reporting. Support may be required in the establishment of the monitoring system, provision of software systems, or the contracting of an expert third party – especially if advanced analysis is required.


  • Censure and reporting – Where required, establishing processes and structures to consider and decide upon violations to the code of conduct. Even if there is no scope for censure 


There may already be codes of conduct it place, addressing a broader range of responsibilities for certain actors. In these cases, it may be appropriate to embed the relevant clauses in such documents.  

However, in the case where there are significant and considerable concerns around internet usage, or a desire to draw attention to the document, a separate code may be appropriate. This may also be influenced by the process and expected impact of the code.  


The information environment is influenced by various actors in the election process.  

  • Candidates and political parties are the most prominent actors in the field. This is the focus of this document.  
  • Media outlets have a powerful role in deciding what and how to report the events around an election.  
  • Civil society groups, in particular those observing the election, can have both a positive or negative impact on the election process through their actions and statements.  
  • The staff of the election management body may engage in social media activity in ways that impact the information environment of the election.  
  • There are likely various online actors who are not politicians but have an outsized impact upon the informational space, those identified as influencers. Some may be involved in political activities or punditry, while others may have never previously engaged in political messaging. Developing a code of conduct to guide their behaviour may be beneficial.   
  • Platforms invariably have an impact upon the online space, primarily through their decision around accepting political advertisements, and their content moderation policies and enforcement. New technologies, such as generative artificial intelligence also raise new questions around the content creation perspective.  

How and when the code will be negotiated and enforced will require consideration and planning. The process may take time to reach an agreement, and putting in place any monitoring process may also require significant effort. However, election calendars vary, and the ability to perform the required tasks before the election begins in earnest may be difficult. 

The specific provisions will need to reflect the context the election is taking place in and the entities who are expected to join the code of conduct. 

Many rules are equally appropriate to behaviour conducted online and offline. However, there are specific items that only apply to the digital space. Even where provisions may be interchangeable, the explicit reference to the internet and social media can help to sharpen minds and reflect the increased role social media plays in the campaigns of leaders.  

The following are primarily related to codes of conduct for political parties and candidates.  

In broad terms when trying to counter actions that can be damaging to the information environment: prohibiting intimidation, harassment and abusive behaviour, victimisation, abuse and hateful language are all common inclusions. Also, the acceptance of the importance of robust critical discussion of political views, in contrast to personal attacks, which are clearly not acceptable. Fairness, respect, tolerance and dignity are other common themes.1 Provisions may also attempt to cover other issues, such as behaviour regarding political advertising, approaches to more professionally and safely operate online, and supportive activities to promote information integrity. 

A number of specific examples are listed below, however we would add that as the technological landscape evolves new concerns and opportunities will emerge. For example, the increased efficacy of generative artificial intelligence is creating new campaigning and disinformation opportunities which are yet to be fully understood. Similarly, norms will also shift, changing what is considered acceptable, for example, increased concerns over data privacy have potential impacts on campaigning. 

The below are not intended as recommendations nor are they exhaustive. Rather, they are intended to provide inspiration for possible provisions. Specific provisions should be contextualized, and are expected to be designed based on the political priorities of the involved actors:  

  • Not to use or spread information pollution;
  • Not to engage in the fabrication of information pollution, or to do so through intermediaries; 
  • Not to disseminate falsified media, including synthetic media and deep fakes;
  • Refrain from posting, disseminating, or promoting content that incites violence or hate speech; 
  • Refrain from unethical or potentially harmful online behaviour, 
  • To not disseminate online content in view of voter dissuasion, 
  • To not disseminate disinformation about the voting process,  
  • To not use fake accounts or automatic bots to manipulate voter opinions,  
  • To not engage in trolling, unfounded accusations or cyber-bullying;  
  • To commit to sharing corrections to disinformation from either themselves or supporters 
  • To agree to abide by the campaign silence period online
    To make transparent the use of any coordinated network activity to disseminate messages 
  • To disclose the use of online paid advertising 
  • To strictly adhere to online platforms’ advertisement policies and mechanisms 
  • To inform about registration and verification processes; respond to inquiries regarding ad authorization and verification processes. 
  • To maintain ethical limits to linking different data sets and uploading them to online platforms for the purpose of microtargeting 
  • To be transparent about the use of user data and to manage data sets in a professional manner, including ensuring privacy where required and respecting user preferences 
  • To refrain from psychological profiling for targeting purposes in online political advertising. 
  • To be transparent about foreign and domestic sources of campaign financing, including online political advertising purchases 
  • To disclose the use of social media consulting firms 
  • To ensure that political party or candidate office staff are trained on the nature of information concerns and best practice. 
  • To train staff in media literacy and risk awareness  
  • To take active steps to maintain good cyber hygiene – including ensuring that social media accounts and data is kept securely  
  • To promote information integrity to the broader public 
  • To raise awareness on the code of conduct internally and promote compliance among candidates, campaign staff, party sections and other bodies, and affiliated institutions. 


Who is best placed to implement the activity?

The most appropriate actor to convene such an activity will depend on the number of factors. Where there is a legal prerogative or specific interest by the election management body or a media monitoring body to engage in codes of conduct, they are naturally the entity to lead.  

In the cases where no such provision or desire exists, there is an opportunity for civil society to intervene.  

There are also voluntary codes which are self-imposed, for example, political parties may have internal rules that govern the actions of their members and candidates and determine the consequences.   

It may be the case that the official entity, for example, the election management body, will not be particularly knowledgeable on the subject, which can make a partnership between the body and a third party, such as a civil society organisation or thematic experts, desirable. Alternatively, partners may join forces to provide more gravitas to the agreements.  

Consideration may be given to the requirements after the agreement. Monitoring can be a complicated task and exceed the capacities of the involved bodies. In some cases, it may be tasked to experts – either in government, civil society or the private sector.  

 Decision making around censures for violations may be politically sensitive. The ability for the decision-making process and responsible entities to fairly implement any rules is critical for the credibility of the process.  

A typical election may have several codes of conduct, targeting different actors in the election process. The most appropriate implementer may vary between them.  


How to ensure context specificity and sensitivity?

As with many activities, the basis should be an assessment of the existing information landscape, the information dynamics in place, the main actors and influencers in the online space. 

The type of election, the election system, and nature of political communication will also have a bearing upon what the best approach and provisions are.   


How to involve youth?

Agreeing within the code of conduct, specific activities to advocate to youth supporter on how to best manage their online behaviour may be valuable. 


How to ensure gender sensitivity/inclusive programming?

Online abuse to women in politics is a relevant concern here. Incorporating rules around this may be relevant – and agreeing proactive measures to have political parties advocate to their supporters to refrain from such behaviour. 


How to communicate about these activities?

The greater the attention drawn to the agreement, the more likelihood that the entities will adhere to it. Accordingly, widely publishing the commitment can support here.  

A communications plan is vital to establishing clear expectations and supporting appropriate coverage. In some cases, for example where there are key political candidates or groups, a televised event may be suitable. More broadly, attempting to get media coverage of the event, or using social media channels to promote the agreement may help. Of course, the signatories should also be encouraged to publicise their commitment.  

The signatories will need to ensure that their broader teams and supporters also understand the constraints and responsibilities introduced by the code of conduct.  


How to coordinate with other actors/which other stakeholders to involve?

The impact of a code of conduct will in large part depend upon having the appropriate groups agree to participate. Of course, for those contexts and groups where there are legal requirements, this is simplified. However, in many cases, there is no compulsion. Accordingly, it will be incumbent upon the signatories themselves to adhere to the code of conduct voluntarily.  


How to ensure sustainability?

Typically, this is not a concern, however codes could be reused for subsequent elections, with improvements based on innovations and newly identified challenges. The work may provide the basis for broader good practice outside of the election period. 


Experts – Experts may be needed to identify appropriate texts and support the identification of topics that are relevant concerns. Facilitators may be required to support negotiation of the terms of the code.

Consultations – Depending upon the design of the activity, support to consultations may be required. Here, consideration should be given to expert inputs from organizations who are involved in the country’s information landscape and, of course, the political parties themselves. Beyond the identification and recruitment of appropriate facilitators, the organization of such activities must be provided for.

Monitoring – The area where more and complex resources may be required are where there is a need to support the monitoring and enforcement of the code. This may include the need to modify and deploy software to organize work, provide hardware, recruit staff to review the content and analyse outcomes, and conduct trainings and monitoring. These tasks may also be outsourced, with some professional—but often costly—firms on the market.


  • The first challenge will be to get broad agreement on the terms of the code and to adopt it. Frankly, some of the terms that might be ideally included may be part of the ‘playbook’ of the prospective signatories.  
  • Having clear terms is vital to avoid disputes between the parties to the agreement. The election context has the potential to incentivise them to break the rules. 
  • Being able to definitively prove that parties have or have not broken the code will be important, else there is a danger that disputes with undermine the credibility of the process and cause parties to withdraw. If actors are sufficiently sophisticated, it may be difficult to attribute detrimental actions to a signatory.  
  • Being able to impose sanctions in a volatile or politically complex environment may be challenging for organisations without strong political standing and trust.  
  • Having some form of credible censure, legal or reputational, is vital for the code of conduct process to be meaningful. However, unless there are rigorous legal provisions in place, it will be challenging to design such.  
  • Provisions may be difficult to implement if the social media platforms technology or policies do not cater for them.  


International IDEA, Model code of conduct for the use of social media during elections.

This document provides general guidelines for EMBs and other stakeholders, including political parties, candidates, citizen journalists and other social media commentators, who wish to agree on a code of etiquette for the publication and dissemination of election-related news and information.

CEPPS, Election Management Body approaches to countering disinformation, Countering Disinformation

This resource combines the collective experience of the organizations belonging to the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS), namely IFES, IRI and NDI. This living project provides an outline of what’s being done to address the challenge in key areas and a searchable inventory of the organizations around the world engaged in making the digital landscape safe for democracy

United Nations, Code of Conduct for Information Integrity on Digital Platforms

The United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications is currently leading the process for developing a global ‘Code of Conduct for Information Integrity on Digital Platforms’, as called for by the Secretary-General in his report ‘Our Common Agenda’. The global Code of Conduct aims to address the challenges relating to the impact of disinformation on our information ecosystem. It will focus on the digital sphere, particularly on social media platforms and will also involve a global study on the extent to which content is causing real life harm, and how it is affecting the UN’s work around the world. The Code of Conduct seeks to put new guidelines in place and will provide a roadmap for the next steps.


Kosovo, Declaration for Good Conduct of Political Parties and Candidates in social media

Democracy for Development (D4D) with support of Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) formulated and implemented the Declaration for Good Conduct of Political Parties and Candidates in social media during the 2021 Local Elections in Kosovo with the objective to improve the integrity of the electoral information environment during the 2021 local elections in Kosovo. Following a workshop with political parties, media, civil society organizations, election commission, and other independent agencies, an interest in developing and implementing a Declaration for Good Conduct in Social Media for the 2021 election was identified. The subsequent signing of the declaration aimed at involving and strenghtening cooperation amongst a wide range of electoral stakeholders to combat negative content on social media such as hate speech, fake news, dis-information, slanderous language and other content that negatively affects the election environment. The activity supplemented the existing legal and ethical requirements and was implemented on a voluntary basis.

The Flemish Regulator for the Media, Content Creator Protocol (CCP)

The Flemish external independent agency for the regulation of Media has made available the Content Creator Protocol (CCP) to content creators, vloggers and influencers who post videos on social media platforms. This allows them to easily find out how to post online videos on social media platforms (such as YouTube, InstagramTiktokTwitch and others) in accordance with the regulations.  

In May 2021, the Flemish Government incorporated the recent amendments to the EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive into the Media Decree. The Flemish Regulator for the Media is authorized to monitor compliance with the media regulations, which is why the Regulator developed the Content Creator Protocol as a tool for content creators, influencers and vloggers.

The Dutch Code of Conduct “Transparency Online Political Advertisement”

Drafted by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) in consultation with political parties and presented to the Dutch House of Representatives and online platforms, at the request of the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, the code was aimed at contributing to preserving several core values around online political advertising and elections, including transparency, privacy, safety, fairness, integrity, and a level playing field.

The Political Parties Act in Kenya includes a Code of Conduct barring political parties from engaging in violence and from encouraging members and supporters to do so.

Guidelines for Political Parties issued by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Nigeria prohibit the use of hate speech and discriminatory rhetoric during campaigns. (Mrabure, K.O., Counteracting Hate Speech and the Right to Freedom of Expression in Selected Jurisdictions, undated, p. 161)

Election Commission of India Model Code of Conduct for the Guidance of Political Parties and Candidates

In India, the Election Commission is responsible for ensuring that campaigns adhere to a strict Model Code of Conduct. The first point of the Code stipulates that “no party or candidate shall include any activity [that] may aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different castes and communities, religious or linguistic.”

Indonesia, The social media code of conduct

In Indonesia the Jakarta-based organization Saraswati and the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) facilitated a code around local elections in December 2020. The code covered a range of commitments, such as the need for parties to fact-check their content, use authentic social media accounts and disseminate accurate information.

Media Monitoring Africa Code of Conduct

In South Africa, the code established a voluntary, civil society led initiative to address harmful online content and provides the framework for the online complaints portal Real411, where members of the public can submit complaints to the Digital Complaints Committee (DCC) relating to (1) Harmful false information; (2) Hate speech; (3) Incitement to violence; (4) Harassment

The Code of Conduct established the DCC, and sets out the relevant powers and functions. It provides clarity on the procedures to be followed and identify the applicable legal frameworks by encouraging public engagement in addressing legal frameworks.

This Code of Conduct provides guidance on striking the appropriate balance between competing rights and interests by taking into consideration all relevant factors, including the importance of the right to freedom of expression, artistic creativity, satire, journalistic activities and the public interest. Nothing in the work undertaken in terms of the Code of Conduct is intended to supplant the role and functions of any other public or private body.





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