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Influencing elections through disinformation and fake news

Sat, 24 Oct 2020 Source: Jonathan Mensah

The population is the prize and elections are the battlegrounds. The statement by the chief strategic communications at NATO that “the threat of conventional warfare has changed and we have to recognize that information can be a weapon “is perfectly true.

The character of humans is not purely ethical and morally outstanding in all instances which is sadly a historical fact and so we can say that social media cannot remain a benevolent and innocuous development.

The problem lies in a new tool that has been identified and utilized by the extreme and polarised political views in an ever-growing number of countries.

Both the right and left extremes of political philosophies have their own agendas to gain power and keep that power.

The weapon of this new propaganda is the social media’s data which is the unfortunate dark side of the once convenient and enjoyable way to interact with loved ones and connect with new potentially interesting and viable relationships.

The academic work of Michal Kosinski who joined the psychometric centre at Cambridge university in 2008 led to the development of a profiling system using general online data, Facebook-likes and smartphone data.

He showed that with a limited number of “likes" people can be analysed better than friends or relatives can do and that individual psychological targeting is a powerful tool to influence people.

This led the way to the development of a methodology to be applied to one of the oldest forums for communications and this is politics.

The key to understanding and influencing electoral outcomes is understanding what trends and issues define an electorate’s outlook at a given time and place.

Winning an election is one of the most clearly measurable behavioral outcomes. Successful application in the political field has provided some of the clearest demonstrations of the efficacy of the methodology in practice.

British behavioral research and a strategic company that came into prominence through Facebook was the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. Strategic communications companies focused on influencing elections in developing countries through disinformation and fake news. They have been involved in elections in Ghana, Gambia, Guyana, Niger, Nigeria to mention a few. Strategic communications companies worked on campaigns that were not financed in a transparency way, overstepping legal and ethical boundaries.

The current allegations of a Ghanaian government official arrested in Britain for bringing into the country an amount of £26million is a clear indication of a Social communications company involvement. The aim is to influence voters through messaging on social media. The message is not British media news otherwise it would not begin by saying “reports from British authorities". The British media has not reported any arrests of a Ghanaian government official which would have been headline news considering the amount of money the official is carrying.

Sadly one can only conclude that the news is fake and its aim is to influence the forthcoming elections in Ghana. Unfortunately, this is influence operation to help orchestrate a sophisticated campaign of mass deception on the Ghanaian public. How the electorates have recognised this, is a question that I have no answer to.

Columnist: Jonathan Mensah