By Teresa Mioli
Countries around the world will see elections in the next couple of years, and consequently, they will also feel the impact of the digital revolution on information-sharing and voting.
To prepare key stakeholders for how new technologies affect information and elections, the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas joined forces with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to organize a free multilingual online course.
“Information and Elections in the Digital Era” is a massive open online course (MOOC) that will be offered from Sept. 19 to Oct. 23, 2022 in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish. Register today!
UNESCO’s Section for Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists, UNDP have worked with the Knight Center to put this program together.
Students will learn standards of freedom of expression and will be exposed to recent experiences on how to address disinformation, misinformation, and hate speech that spread during electoral processes.
Speakers will include: Alphonce Shiundu, Africa Check, Andrew Puddephatt, Internet Watch Foundation; Benoît Loutrel, Regulatory Authority for Audiovisual and Digital Communication (Autorité de régulation de la communication audiovisuelle et numérique; ARCOM); Glen Mashini, Chairperson of the Electoral Commission (IEC) of South Africa, Guilherme Canela, Head of Section, UNESCO, Patricia Campos Mello, journalist; Roselyn Akombe, Head of Governance and Peacebuilding in Africa for UNDP; Lorenzo Córdova Vianello, National Electoral Institute (INE) Mexico; Vusumuzi Sifile, Panos South Africa, The Supervisory Elections Commission Lebanon and UNDP regional programme; Five practitioners and experts from UNDP will introduce speakers’ input: Dan Malinovic, Focal point for Elections; Niamh Hanafin, Senior Adviser Information Integrity, Osama Aljaber, Digital Democracy Specialist, Sare Knoope and Ajay Patel respectively Programme Manager and Lead expert SELECT Project; Tatiana Monney, Electoral Adviser.
“In today’s highly interconnected world, no election, no run-up to an election, and no post-election monitoring, is free from the influence of the digital era,” said Guilherme Canela, head of UNESCO’s Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists section.
“And this is not necessarily a negative development. An expanding digital sphere has the potential to strengthen democracy – and freedom of expression, as everyone can publish and share information, ideas, knowledge, concerns either freely or at a low cost, to large audiences around the world,” Canela said. “However, it also harbors risks, such as the proliferation of misinformation, disinformation and hate speech which can serve to undermine and delegitimize the electoral process and democratic institutions at large.”
Sarah Lister, Head of Governance at UNDP adds: “Information exchange is the lifeblood of elections. The open exchange of information and space for debate and dialogue around competing ideas is fundamental to the democratic and electoral process. As a result of digitalization, opportunities to seek, receive, and impart political information are unprecedented. However, today’s information ecosystem is not enabling this critical exchange. The legitimacy of the democratic process can be marred by unverified information, as well as manipulated and polluted by disinformation. This online course is designed to enhance the contribution of a wide range of stakeholders to harness the new opportunities of digital technologies, while at the same time remaining vigilant to the emerging threats and contribute to an information ecosystem conducive to inclusive, transparent and credible elections based on democratic dialogue.
The course will have five weekly modules:
Albertina Piterbarg, an electoral expert and journalist working at UNESCO’s Freedom of Expression and Security of Journalists section, is the lead instructor for this course. For more than 20 years, Piterbarg has worked in the areas of communications, elections and women’s political participation in the Organization of American States (OAS), UN Peacekeeping Operations, UNDP, UN Women and most recently, UNESCO. She has participated in missions in Niger, Ivory Coast, Tunisia, Libya, East-Timor, New Caledonia, Mexico, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Dominican Republic and Venezuela, among others.
Piterbarg will be joined by assistant instructors in the French, Portuguese and Spanish courses. Julie Godignon, consultant with expertise in electoral assistance and observation, will assist in French. Lucas Novaes Ferreira, a former consultant specialist in communication at UNESCO in the freedom of expressions and protection of journalists section, will be assisting in Portuguese. And, Cristina Perez Claeys, independent consultant in the fields of political assessment and analysis of electoral processes, will be an AI in Spanish.
This course is meant for electoral practitioners and electoral key stakeholders, including Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs), Audiovisual Regulatory Bodies (ARBs), Human Rights and Women Rights Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), national and international electoral observers, political actors, academic and fact-checking organizations. Media workers, media representatives and journalists, including community media and citizen journalists, are also invited to register.
Canela emphasized the need for electoral stakeholders to understand the new digital ecosystem and its impact on elections.
“Whether its citizens, who have interest in being digitally literate, EMBs who need to identify how to ensure free and fair elections, politicians who want to ensure a fair playing field when running in elections, tech companies who need to ensure their business model is compliant with international human rights law and, journalists who should cover elections taking into account these new developments,” he said.
Canela added that those impacted by the digital era, such as EMBs, are asking for help adapting.
“That is one of the reasons why we are launching this Electoral MOOC: we are responding to the needs and requests of electoral practitioners and stakeholders,” he said.
“At the Knight Center, we are proud of this new partnership with two UN agencies that have already helped us to bring training to so many journalists around the world. This time, however, the training goes beyond journalism and media, reaching other stakeholders interested in the impact of the digital revolution on electoral processes,” said professor Rosental Alves, founder and director of the Knight Center. “It will be great to see so many different stakeholders taking this MOOC.”
Like all Knight Center courses, this MOOC is asynchronous, meaning the activities can be completed on the days and at the times that best suit your schedule. However, there are recommended weekly deadlines so students don’t fall behind.
Piterbarg will teach the course using videos, presentations, readings, discussion forums and quizzes.
Those who successfully complete course requirements and are eligible for a certificate of completion. No formal academic credit is associated with the certificate.
So, let’s face these challenges together and take the first steps by registering for this exciting free online course today!
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