Regional Europe Office Holds Successful First Virtual Event in Light of Pandemic
On March 24, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) held a “Slovak Parliamentary Elections in an Era of Disinformation: Post-Election Debrief” under its “Regional Elections Administration and Political Processes Strengthening Program” (REAPPS) through its Regional Europe Office in the Czech Republic. The event was designed to assess the use of social media and disinformation in Slovakia’s February 29 parliamentary elections. In recent elections, the longtime, previously governing Direction – Social Democracy party and others frequently used social media in their campaigns, and there were many accusations of disinformation as a campaign tool. The last elections had been highly anticipated, with 65 percent voter turnout, the highest in nearly two decades.
With many in-person events and activities around the world canceled or postponed due to restrictions on travel and large gatherings of people, IFES is rolling out a series of adapted, innovative initiatives that will be implemented virtually to ensure continuity of programming and engagement of key stakeholders.
A primary goal of REAPPS is to bring people together to promote cross-border learning, networking and new capacity in political participation, government transparency and election administration. With many in-person events and activities around the world canceled or postponed due to restrictions on travel and large gatherings of people, IFES is rolling out a series of adapted, innovative initiatives that will be implemented virtually to ensure continuity of programming and engagement of key stakeholders.
Like many other countries responding to the novel coronavirus crisis, Slovakia has severely restricted public gatherings. IFES therefore transitioned this event to a virtual meeting held on March 24 as originally scheduled. The meeting was the second in a series of activities under the REAPPS disinformation initiative and hosted in partnership with local organizations MEMO98, Globsec and Seesame. The webinar marked the first successful IFES online meeting of this kind and will be a model for future adapted programming across Europe and Eurasia.
The debrief’s goal was to assess the role of social media and disinformation on Slovakia’s electoral process, including activities conducted by social media companies to counteract disinformation. The virtual meeting brought together participants from the Slovak Council for Broadcasting and Retransmission, Facebook and Open Society Foundations, and experts on disinformation, journalists, academics and interested civil society organizations. Expert presentations were delivered via the online platform and a total of 53 people participated in a robust discussion about challenges and solutions. Recordings in English and Slovak are available below.
The event provided valuable insights for the upcoming pre-launch meeting of the Europe and Eurasia Election Management Body Working Group on Social Media, Disinformation and Electoral Integrity planned for spring 2020, as well as future REAPPS disinformation programming.
The ability to continue engaging key stakeholders effectively on issues of democracy and elections in the coming months will be critical for mitigating the long-term impact of this unprecedented global challenge.
This virtual meeting demonstrated that despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there are effective ways for the international community to come together and carry on a meaningful dialogue on salient issues. As an organization that has worked to build democracies around the world for more than 30 years, IFES is committed to swiftly recalibrating its programming in response to shifting needs and global realities. The ability to continue engaging key stakeholders effectively on issues of democracy and elections in the coming months will be critical for mitigating the long-term impact of this unprecedented global challenge.
The event was part of IFES’ REAPPS project in Europe and Eurasia, funded by the United States Agency for International Development and implemented through the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS). REAPPS was designed to address common challenges among Central and Eastern European and Eurasian societies. These include defining the role of government, fostering political pluralism, stimulating civic participation and channeling internal conflict into political institutions to produce democratic outcomes faced by transitioning democracies within Europe and Eurasia.
Established in 1995, CEPPS pools the expertise of three premier international organizations dedicated to democratic development: IFES, the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute. CEPPS has a 20-year track record of collaboration and leadership in democracy, human rights and governance support, learning from experience, and adopting new approaches and tools based on the ever-evolving technological landscape.