NDI is working with civil society in Ecuador to protect the integrity of upcoming elections in 2021. Digital disinformation is widely used in Ecuador, and there is growing concern information will be weaponized to manipulate public opinion and spread fictional information that undermines the public’s trust and voter confidence in the electoral institution, minimize political competitiveness and impair informed participation of voters during the upcoming elections.
With NDI’s support, Diana Atamaint, the president of the National Electoral Council of Ecuador (Consejo Nacional Electoral del Ecuador, CNE), and Lorenzo Córdova, the president of the National Electoral Institute of Mexico (Instituto Nacional Electoral de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos, INE) signed a cooperative agreement in mid-February to draw on the INE’s experience countering disinformation. In 2018 and 2019, the INE collaborated with the Verificado (Verified) project, a network made up of over 90 journalists and formed a partnership among the electoral institution, civil society, academia and internet and social media platforms (including Google, Facebook, and Twitter) to monitor and verify electoral information, malinformation and misinformation.
The agreement between the CNE and INE is an important step toward ensuring Ecuador’s elections are free and fair. The agreement includes concrete measures related to the use of technology tools for the administration of elections; oversight and control of parties’ and candidates’ election spending; political communication in electoral campaigns; and cooperation and the exchange of materials and information across electoral councils in the region, and more.
After the agreement was signed, NDI and the INE conducted workshops with elected officials, media, political parties and civil society organizations on strategies to counter disinformation in pre-electoral environments and crises. Participants heard best practices from successful international experiences involving citizen monitoring and fact-checking. For example, during Mexico’s election period, Verificado journalists live fact-checked presidential candidates during debates, and launched the hashtag #QuieroQueVerifiquen (#IWantThemToVerify) to allow the public to request information be verified. What’s more, through the INE’s cooperative agreement with Facebook, an unprecedented formal collaboration between an electoral body and a tech giant, the electoral body was able to monitor and prevent disinformation from going viral through accounts managed by bots. It was also able to inform and educate the public on how to spot fake news by corroborating it with a credible source through targeted ads. NDI and the INE both emphasized in the training that a collaborative approach breeds greater public trust and confidence in official information, and credibility as politically impartial.
Throughout the cooperative agreement, NDI will continue to draw on the lessons learned in Mexico. The Institute will provide civil society in Ecuador technical support, strategies and information on how to assess, monitor and mitigate the impact of disinformation in support of open and transparent elections.