Debunking of false electoral messages and counteracting of speech inciting division. IPN debate

Among the factors that negatively and considerably influence the quality of elections in the Republic of Moldova are the false electoral messages and those that incite hatred and division. Respectively, skills and instruments for counteracting such noxious messages are needed for ensuring freer and fairer elections. The subject was discussed by invitees to the public debate “Debunking of false electoral messages and counteracting of speech inciting division” that was staged by IPN News Agency.

Expert in hate speech monitoring at Promo-Lex, Irina Korobchenko, said that in the public sphere, when they speak about hate speech and speech that incites discrimination, the authors of such types of messages often tend to say that these messages are in line with the freedom of expression, which is often untrue as particular messages go beyond the freedom of expression and violate human rights. Hate speech is an aggressive form of expression that promotes, incites and justifies hatred toward a person or a group of persons based on a feature, either they speak another language, are of another ethnicity, have other beliefs or religious convictions, etc.

According to Irina Korobchenko, when there is potential hate speech, attention should be devoted to a number of criteria that show that speech is dangerous and justifies hatred. “Initially, we should determine if that speech generates a powerful feeling of hatred, disgust to a person or a group of persons. The more authoritarian and visible is the one that transmits this message, the graver is the message. We should also see the goal of the message and the risk for this to cause damage to someone. When a person calls for discrimination, attacking of another person, hitting, aggressiveness, that message is a hate message that incites hatred and violence. In general, hate speech can lead to marginalization, stigmatization, humiliation, violation of human rights, acts of violence. Genocide is the most serious form of hate speech and there were many cases in the history of mankind when hate speech that wasn’t penalized at the right moment triggered this violent mechanism in society,” stated the expert.

Mihai Mogîldea, team leader at the Institute for European Policies and Reforms (IPRE), said the players that transmit false messages that incite hatred are more visible in the electoral period. The number of messages rises together with the approaching of elections as the goal is to attract electoral support from the voters on whom some of the political forces in Moldova bank. “The goal pursued by the political forces by such messages can be analyzed from two viewpoints. It’s clear that the political parties that disseminate such messages aim to segment the voters based on particular criteria and to create cleavages among them,” he said, noting it was earlier tried to determine cleavages between unionists and statehood supporters, Moldovans and foreigners, majorities and minorities so as to attract votes from particular electors and to mobilize the electorate based on such messages.

Mihai Mogîldea stated that another pursued goal is to direct the electoral debates at particular subjects whose relevance is limited or very low. “They limit attention to a particular key domestic policy problem that should normally be the subject of electoral debates. This affects the electoral process, democracy in the country as the period until the end of elections is very important in any democracy and this subject will definitely only hamper the democratic mechanisms in the county and will damage the image of the electoral process. When the election campaign is started, all the so-called “problems” disseminated in the public sphere by some of the representatives of parties are amplified. The goal is to attract reactions from other election contenders so as to initiate a false debate on irrelevant subjects, such as the disappearance of the Republic of Moldova if a particular force wins the elections,” stated Mihai Mogîldea.

Elena Prohnitski, secretary of the Civic Coalition for Free and Fair Elections, said the speech that incites hatred is inseparable from fake news and they go hand in hand. “The two phenomena explore the phobias, the unconscious mind. By this speech, it is much easier to attract voters, their attention than to make use of reasonable facts. The speech that incites division is used by parties for narrow and short-term aims to obtain power by extending cleavages and lines of division in society. But such a strategy has a shot-term impact. In the long run, the parties and competitors that use this speech can obtain a diametrically opposed reaction, as it was shown in the presidential elections of last year when hate speech was used to divide the diaspora and the voters in the country, but the result was the mobilization of the diaspora and the voters in the country as these have strong ties,” she stated.

Elena Prohnitski noted the voters now cannot be easily manipulated with such speech. “The parties should realize that particular culture and a particular reaction to such type of speech develop in society in time. The population’s confidence in political parties and in state institutions continues to decline and this can be also explained by hate speech, fake news and behavior shown by some of the political players,” said the Coalition’s secretary.

Petru Macovei, executive director of the Association of Independent Press (API), said the distribution of false messages and hate speech by social media became the main method of promoting these messages. “The motivation in the case of the Republic of Moldova derives also from the lack of a legal framework. On the other hand, the bill that bans hate speech gathers dust in Parliament as there is no political will and because the politicians themselves resort to such messages in times of crisis, especially during election campaigns. On the other hand, there is no data about the sums used by parties to promote their messages through social networking sites. This is also related to the securing of these data to which international platforms that host social networking sites resort. Yes, in the election campaign the mass media become the main source of information and also the main source of disinformation. The Moldovan media market is as it is, with its good and bad points, especially those that derive from the political control on editorial policies and the quality of owner of politicians or persons who are very close to politicians and their interests,” state Petru Macovei.

He noted the media channels, either the TV channels or the online portals, most of the times generate speculative news. “The case with the 30,000 Syrians showed how easily public opinion can be manipulated. Later, in the Chisinau mayoral elections of 2018, they tried again to use the issue of migrants who allegedly were to come to Moldova to impose their religion on us and to take the bread from our children,” stated Petru Macovei, noting the politicians or generators of fake news apply the same method again and now there is the story with NATO soldiers who come to Moldova. This is done because some of the citizens are sensitive to such messages and can react. However, compared with the previous elections, the voters become more critical of such messages and the fake news will now not have the same effect.

The public debate “Debunking of false electoral messages and counteracting of speech inciting division” is the 186th installment of IPN’s project “Developing Political Culture through Public Debates” that is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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