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Free press, foul play and election fears

This year marks the first time in history that more than half of the world’s population will participate in elections.

How voters are informed may impact the outcomes in 40 countries. In an information ecosystem increasingly polluted by misinformation and disinformation campaigns, could 2024 could be a bellwether for the resilience of democracy?

According to the world press freedom index, which is compiled by Reporters Without Borders, the environment for journalism is “bad” in seven out of ten countries and journalism is under threat from the fake content industry.

While many independent news organizations across western democracies struggle to survive with smaller budgets and fewer journalists, AI-generated social media campaigns are bombarding the information ecosystem with misinformation, disinformation and deep-fake videos that are designed to affect the electorate.

This comes as the social media industry is reneging on content moderation and privately-owned encrypted communications channels are flourishing.

Already this year, China waged an aggressive – but ultimately unsuccessful –  misinformation campaign that promoted a Beijing-friendly candidate in Taiwanese elections.

American voters will likely have a presidential rematch of 2020. The likely Republican candidate has been openly hostile to journalists and promotes widespread mistrust of media.

When he lost the last election, Trump used social and traditional media to propagate lies that he had won. He has been charged with criminal efforts to undermine the vote. This time around, he has access to AI.

As we move into this critical year for democracy, the importance of free and independent media has never been greater.

Our 2024 press freedom luncheon on May 2 will dive deeper into this topic.

In the face of challenges that were unimaginable a few years ago, WPFC will be here to advocate for press freedom and the right for journalists to do their work without fear nor favour.

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Heather Bakken
World Press Freedom Canada