TYPES OF ELECTORAL DISINFORMATION
in Latin America and the Caribbean
CASE 1: Irregularities in the electoral process are not proof of fraud
It is common to prevent certain errors or even irregularities in an election involving millions of people. The type of irregularities that appear depends on each country's electoral system (in many cases, it's a provisional vote count in a voting centre with an error), but the type of disinformation appears in many electoral processes in the region, such as in in Argentina, Perú or Colombia, where these errors are presented as evidence of alleged organised fraud.
In most cases, involuntary irregularities do not systematically favour one side over another, whereas purposeful irregularities tend to favour one group over another. However, there are processes in place to assess an election's openness and decide if inconsistencies are the result of human error or deliberate manipulation. A mistake made during the election is not evidence of fraud.
In Argentina's 2019 presidential elections, for example, several images on telegrams circulated with errors or inconsistencies, such as cross-outs or an abnormal summing of numbers and were presented as evidence of fraud. These images were used for the provisional vote count on the night of the elections and had no legal validity. The only valid result, however, was the one obtained the following days using tally sheets signed by polling station officials. If any problems are discovered, the ballot boxes can be unsealed and a new count performed.
A similar incident occurred during Colombia's 2018 presidential elections, when photographs of cross-outs on voting papers were widely circulated. However, the election commission looked into these facts and determined that the irregularities accounted for less than 0.5 percent of the total votes cast.
CASE 2: The authorities are accused of committing fraud
This type of disinformation, along with reports of irregularities throughout the electoral process, is typically among the most widely disseminated during elections, with the goal of proving organised fraud orchestrated by national, municipal, and/or electoral officials.
Jair Bolsonaro used the allegation of electoral fraud as part of his winning campaign in Brazil's 2018 elections. This issue was particularly concerning because the president circulated false information, that ballot boxes had been tampered with, which resulted in the most widespread disinformation during the electoral campaign that year.
Another example was the situation of Mexico, where several social media posts claimed that the pencils provided by the voting organisation could be destroyed by fire.
Other common examples of this type of disinformation are claims that false ballots were distributed, that ballots were already marked by a candidate on election day, that there were false coloured ballots at the polls, or that open election packets are delivered with missing ballots (in countries with this type of system).
CASE 3: Using the identification of a deceased person to vote
People using the identification of a deceased person to vote is another common type of disinformation that occurs in many elections in the region. Often, these are registry errors that are addressed by the authorities.
For instance, during the 2021 elections in Peru, a video circulated in which an electoral act purportedly signed by a deceased individual was presented. It was, however, a typing error: the user typed 9 instead of 4 for the last digit on the identity card.
In Costa Rica, however, it was announced that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be possible to vote in general elections in 2022 using expired ID cards. Subsequently, there were claims on Facebook that extending the validity of identity cards will encourage "thousands of deceased" to vote in the 2022 presidential elections. However, because the electoral roll is updated until the day of the election, the names of persons who die before that date are removed.
CASE 4: Misinformation regarding who has the right to vote and who doesn't
During election season, there is a lot of information that aims to demonise minorities. One example is the disinformation that immigrants participate in countries where it is prohibited, or foreign citizens in countries where they are permitted to vote do not comply with the legal requirements.
This type of incorrect information differs depending on the country's rules. For example, several articles circulated in Colombia stating that the then recent arrivals from Venezuela would be able to vote in the 2019 elections. In fact, the law in Colombia states that foreign citizens can only vote if they have a foreign identification card or have been in the country for five years or more and are registered to vote, according to the country's statutes. To put it another way, Venezuelans can vote in Colombian elections (just like any other foreign citizen), but only if they meet certain requirements.
Another case of widely disseminated misinformation occurred in Chile, where it was claimed that foreign citizens who arrived in the country less than a month before the New Constitution plebiscite could vote, despite the fact that Chilean law states that foreign citizens can only vote if they have lived in the country for more than 5 years.
CASE 5: Manipulation to prevent voting or vote invalidation
Each country has its own set of laws for when a vote must be annulled or contested (i.e., not counted as valid), and much disinformation aims to deceive individuals, resulting in their vote being annulled or their ability to vote being denied.
One example is a piece of information that circulated in Mexico that stated that it was possible to vote for more than one candidate, despite the fact that this actually posed a problem to the vote. Another example is a video that went viral in Colombia, claiming that if people voted for a candidate in the first round, they didn't need to vote again in the second round because their vote was already recorded.
CASE 6: Misinformation concerning the documentation required to vote
This type of misinformation promotes misleading information regarding the types of voting documents approved by electoral boards.
Due to the difficulty of renewing expired ID cards or documentation during the period when social distancing measures were in place due to the COVID-19 global health crisis, governments allowed voters to us outdated documentation. However, during the plebiscite in Chile for a new Constitution in 2020, false information surfaced claiming.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, this type of misinformation took on new shapes, since numerous countries permitted residents to vote using expired ID cards or paperwork. However, during Chile's 2020 Constitutional Referendum, a number of false claims surfaced claiming that voting with an expired ID was impossible, resulting in many people missing out on the opportunity to vote.
CASE 7: Disinformation concerning citizens' votes in other countries
Another type of content that circulates often during election seasons and is regulated differently in different countries is information about citizens voting from abroad. For example, the false claim that the Chilean embassy in Canada barred Chilean citizens from voting in the referendum.
Images of the package of ballots delivered to Mexicans living abroad to vote in the elections went viral in Mexico, and it was claimed that ballots for federal deputies were missing. However, Mexican law prohibits Mexicans living abroad from voting in all public elections, but this varies depending on the type of election and the state in which they reside.
Several photographs of supposed overseas voters' results circulated during the 2020 Bolivian elections. The use of the logo identities of several international organisations, such as the United Nations Organization were used to legitimise these pictures (UN).
CASE 8: Election Day Disorganisation
This type of false content seeks to disorient or generate fear in citizens about the time of the election, for example by disseminating that you can vote on days or times that were actually possible. In the previous elections in Chile, the situation was especially confusing because while the October 2020 elections were held in a single day, those of May 2021 were held during two days.
Other contents of this style that circulated in Chile claimed that the voting centers were not going to be guarded or that they were going to be unsafe. On the other hand, in Mexico an article circulated claiming that it was forbidden to enter the boxes with cell phones.
CASE 9: Fake surveys
The release of electoral polls hours before and on election days is illegal or strictly restricted in most countries.
However, it is typical for fraudulent content to circulate that mimics the formats of actual polls in order to declare results or trends for party beneficiaries. On the day of the 2021 elections in Mexico, a false exit poll on the results of the governorship election in the municipality of Sinaloa circulated, complete with the logo of an official pollster. This was incorrect, as it is illegal in Mexico to broadcast surveys while people are voting, subsequently, the pollster rejects the study's publishing.
In Bolivia's 2020 elections, on the other hand, a supposed exit poll featuring the logo of a local television station circulated. The exit poll findings, according to the Bolivian Supreme Electoral Tribunal, can only be released after 6:00 p.m, the time election's end. These results, however, were released two hours earlier. Furthermore, the outlet denied the authority of the survey.
CASE 10: Candidate declarations that are false
False content regarding political candidates is another type of prevalent election-related misinformation.
Editing and manipulating images with editing tools is a popular resource, as are bits taken out of context, which can even be from different times or places.
This can be used to display allegedly false election advertisements. False visuals, such as a montage purporting to show an Ecuadorian presidential contender getting vaccinated at a time when only health professionals were inoculated, is another example. The image, however, had been altered.
TV videographs - the stripes that are displayed on news channels with phrases - or cards that contain the logo of media sources with a photo of a candidate and a fictitious message - are frequently used for fraudulent declarations. These types of resources are widely used for disinformation, because they are credible, easy to edit and cheap.
This happened with candidates from Argentina and Chile, among other countries. Fake tweets, on the other hand, are also easily editable.
Videos that have been edited or taken out of context, on the other hand, have a tendency to proliferate. In Peru, for example, a video was doctored to make it appear as if a presidential contender was being dictated a speech.
Another tool is parodic audio, which is erroneously attributed to the candidates.
In Argentina, for example, an audio clip circulated in which a leader of a political party allegedly threatened agricultural growers, which was not true.