Home to three ethnic groups that share political power, born out of war, elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina are fraught with disinformation. Allegations of rigging the vote count and accepting bribes are just some of the false claims against the Central Election Commission (CEC) that explode on social media.
With no social media posts about absentee ballots, voting locations, or how the diaspora could vote, there was an information gap in online space that made the CEC more vulnerable to claims of election fraud ahead of the 2022 general election.
Exasperating the already-limited circumstances, the body only had one full-time communications employee.
“When disinformation is focused on the election management body, they usually try to affect three parts of our work,” Dr. Irena Hadžiabdić, International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) board member and former CEC president, previously said in an interview. “The first one, to tell [voters] that you are the tool in political hands. The second one, to actually affect election preparation, to tell the voters that the elections are not very well organized. And the third, to affect the results with the fact that the elections are not secure.”
The CEC set out to combat this problem by refreshing its communications strategy and brand when they engaged seasoned strategic communications and digital marketing professionals, guided by IFES through funds provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
CEC President Suad Arnautović said he noticed the difference of having a bigger, well-resourced team when they began expanding their digital presence, reaching voters using various social media channels.
“[We] worked to publish information in real-time to ensure that all information was presented to the public, easily accessible and transparent to everyone online,” one of the communication professionals said.
While building the reputation of a more transparent CEC, addressing questions from past elections—filling in that information gap—was an important factor. Starting from only a basic foundation, the CEC built a strong presence on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn in critical times for the 2022 election process.
“In principle, the posts that garnered most interest were posts that were informative and easy to understand,” IFES’s digital marketing expert said. One of the most successful posts, a Frequently Asked Questions infographic, “helped the CEC to address ambiguities that may have been present.”
The 2022 general elections turned out to be more turbulent than expected, with allegations of fraud and subsequent massive recounts. The CEC’s decision to recount votes for the Presidency of Republika Srpska garnered a great amount of media attention, but Arnautović said he ultimately felt more equipped to handle it because of its fresh rebranding and public relations guidance.
“I think that [disinformation is] not the case only here, but in my opinion, it has become a global challenge,” Arnautović said. “I think we were ready to respond to these attacks.”
Under USAID’s Supporting Political Pluralism and Good Governance Processes in Bosnia and Herzegovina project (SPPGG), IFES is providing targeted technical assistance to the Central Election Commission, civil society, and media to promote a genuine and democratic electoral process. With IFES support, election administration receives tailored guidance and capacity building to bolster resilience to information integrity and corruption threats and civil society and media watchdogs engage in globally-tested monitoring and advocacy efforts to promote a transparent and trusted electoral process.