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Kofi Annan Commission calls for urgent action to save elections from digital threats

The Kofi Annan Commission, a not-for-profit group, on Thursday called for an urgent action by governments, business and civil society to protect democracy from digital threats.

In a report released here during the WEF 2020 week, the Commission set out actionable recommendations in five major areas – polarisation, hate speech, disinformation, political advertising and foreign interference.

The Commission said the current debate on the impact of digital platforms is dominated by claims based on inconclusive evidence and competing or incomplete data.

Besides, the rise of the transnational business of election influencing poses risks to democracy if it is not regulated, while democracies in the Global South are the most vulnerable to digital threats.

It also said countries with pre-existing polarisation, a history of violence, and highly partisan media are particularly vulnerable to the weaponisation of social media.

“The use of digital technologies during elections have become a source of concern after they have been weaponised during key events such as recent protests in Hong Kong,the 2019 EU Parliamentary elections, and the past U.S. Presidential campaign,” it said.

This report comes at an inflection point where if action is not taken, electoral integrity will be at risk in key elections around the world this year, it added.

Laura Chinchilla, Chair of the Kofi Annan Commission on Elections and Democracy in the Digital Age, said much of global attention has been on digital threats and foreign manipulation of elections afflicting Western countries.

“For the first time, we take a particular look at the Global South, where new democracies or those in transition are particularly vulnerable to digital threats but where promising democratic developments are also taking place.”

The Commission called on governments to compel digital platforms to release their data to independent researchers. Without this critical information, a comprehensive assessment of the impact of technology on democracy cannot be completed and will continue to pose threats to the democratic process, it said.

Social media platforms should create a coalition to address digital threats to democracy, as they have done collaboratively to address terrorism or child exploitation, it added.

Alan Doss, President of the Kofi Annan Foundation, said, “Mr. Annan cared deeply about democracy and established this Commission to ensure that the power of digital technologies could be harnessed to empower and engage citizens.

“The Commission was his last major policy initiative and is a fitting testament to his legacy as a defender of the right of people to have a say in how they are governed, and by whom.”

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