5 things to know ahead of the 2024 European Elections
Member of the EDMO Executive Board, Fact-checking Director and Chair of the EDMO Task Force on the 2024 European Elections
Building on the initial activities of the EDMO Task Force on the 2024 European Parliament Elections, as well as on discussions at the recent EDMO Hubs meeting in Dubrovnik, Croatia, Giovanni Zagni’s post presents five important takeaways we should consider when discussing the issues faced by the European media ecosystem ahead of next year’s elections.
Key words: European Parliament, elections, preparedness, media ecosystem
From 6 to 9 June 2024, European citizens will be called to the polls for the European Parliament elections, commonly described as one of the largest democratic exercises in the world. Many observers point to next year’s election as an especially momentous one for the Union, given the many challenges faced by the bloc since the previous electoral round in 2019 – such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
One of the main concerns ahead of the elections is the way that freedom and fairness can be ensured also with regards to the information ecosystem, keeping it free from the negative influence of mis- and disinformation as well as from coordinated campaigns to target specific groups, attack political representatives or more generally pollute the debate.
With this concern in mind, at the beginning of 2023, the European Digital Media Observatory established a Task Force on the 2024 European Elections. Its goal is that of monitoring the EU information ecosystem ahead of the elections, as well as to collect and facilitate communications in research, Media and Information Literacy (MIL) and fact-checking initiatives. Its main focus will be on the risks posed by mis- and disinformation.
The Task Force relies greatly on the work carried out by the 14 EDMO Hubs which collect and share information about the issues at the national and regional levels. The Task Force is composed of one representative from each national and regional Hub, plus three members from the EDMO Advisory Council.
Building on the Task Force’s initial activities, as well as on a discussion held at the recent EDMO Hubs meeting in Dubrovnik, Croatia, on 28-29 September 2023, there are already some important takeaways we should consider when discussing the issues faced by the European media ecosystem ahead of next year’s elections (these opinions are personal and do not reflect those of other participants in any sense).
- Focus on content. Any activity carried out with the aim of having a safer and healthier public debate must ensure the freedom of speech and of expression. It is important to focus on content instead of pointing the finger at individual users or supposed “culprits”. This has some obvious exceptions, such as in the case of bots, coordinated campaigns and proven external influences and campaigns, but all these cases need to be proven by strong evidence and most likely require help and support from online platforms and/or social networks where they take place.
- Understand the complex nature of the problem. Mis- and disinformation are complex phenomena. There is disagreement among the scientific community about their exact definitions, boundaries and characteristics, as well as about their actual relevance in the media ecosystem and their effects on users. Any initiative aiming at understanding more about mis- and disinformation in the European ecosystem must take into account the multifaceted nature of the problem and refrain from easy solutions. There is no silver bullet in the fight for a healthier and freer public debate, and the issues at stake are the product of many processes involving the social, economic and even political sphere.
- Learn from previous experience. Mis- and disinformation rose to prominence in the global public debate towards the end of 2016. Since then, many elections have taken place around the world, and many problematic issues with regard to the health of the online debate have been recorded, including direct interference by foreign actors and coordinated campaigns targeting political candidates. Anyone working on the fairness of next year’s elections can and should build on the many pieces of information available from past efforts.
- Consider the great regional differences inside the Union. In order to evaluate the European situation ahead of the elections, we need to identify both common trends regarding the whole Union as well as critical challenges that may involve just one or two countries. It is crucial to keep any analysis firmly grounded in the regional and national characteristics of the electoral campaigns and processes, as well as in the specific differences between different political systems and media environments.
- Prepare for the risks. The European Parliamentary elections are still a few months away. There is ample time to appropriately prepare for the issues ahead, provided that there is a common and well-coordinated effort by all the stakeholders involved: from independent observers such as EDMO, to the media professionals, the academic community and the social media platforms, as well as the regulatory bodies and the national authorities.
The 2024 European elections are the focus of many multi-stakeholder efforts to monitor their regularity, freedom and fairness. Such scrutiny is very much welcomed, provided that some attention is given to the inefficiencies stemming from duplication and lack of coordination. The EDMO Task Force will do its best to provide support and proper communication among the many precious efforts underway.